Tag Archives: Bhandaru Acchamamba

Lakshmi Puja Day by Bhandaru Acchamamba

(Translator’s note: The Telugu original, dhanatrayodasi, by Bhandaru Acchamamba(1874-1905) has been published, originally, in Hindusundari monthly, November 1902. Reprinted on www.bhumika.org in 2006.

My translation has been published in 2009 on this site, and included in the anthology, Penscape, An Anthology of Telugu Short Stories. The art work on the cover has been created by highly acclaimed artist, Seela Veerraju garu. It reflects the theme of this story. – Nidadavolu Malathi, translator.
The day of the festivity occurs two days before Diwali day, and celebrated by Hindus seeking health, wealth and prosperity. Also, referred to as Lakshmi Puja Day.

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Lakshmi Puja Day

Around 7:00 in the evening on the day of Dhanathrayodasi[1]Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities, the entire city of Bombay was celebrating the festival exuberantly. There were not as many lamps as on the deepavali day, but each house was glowing with the little lamps in clay dishes, enough to display the contour and the beauty of the house. Firecrakers were making huge sounds from every corner. People adorned Goddess Lakshmi with gold and diamond jewelry, and performed the Lakshmi puja per custom.

In one home, however, there was no sign of the festival. It could be called not a home but a hut. That hut was located between mansions of two rich business persons. It was like the Goddess Jyeshta, [2]Goddess of poverty, came to watch the celebration of her younger sister, Lakshmi[3]The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth. People in the neighborhood were happy, on one hand, to see the cleanliness and tidiness of the hut; on the other hand, they were upset because the hut was ruining the beauty of the wealthy neighborhood. My dear sisters!(neighbors), you are upset, probably, because I am narrating the story of a poor family instead of the rich on this festive occasion in this great city. Sisters! If you stop being annoyed and listen to me carefully, you would know that the story of this hut is extraordinary.

I have stated earlier that there were two great mansions on either side of the hut. Those mansions lit several lamps all around their homes, but the hut in the middle had only one lamp shining brightly at the center of it. Vijayalakshmi, the lady of the hut, was sowing a blouse, which she had agreed to make for another woman, for a little cash. A four-year-old girl and a cute three-year-old boy sat next to her. They were showing her their toys and asking questions. They made her happy.

Vijayalakshmi finished cooking, and was waiting for her husband to come home. Her husband, Venkataratnam, was working as a clerk for a rich business owner, Setty. She knew it was Dhana trayodasi day, and her husband would be home only after the puja at his boss’s house had concluded. Therefore, she fed the children and ended the state of madi[4]A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical … Continue reading. She sat down to work on the blouse again. Ah! Her face was glowing with the signs of awaiting her husband‘s arrival. Only those, who had seen her with their own eyes, could appreciate it but not everybody. Her physical eyes were focused on the blouse, but her mind’s eye was on her husband’s coming home.

Her cute son threw his arms around her neck tightly, calling for her attention. Up until then, she was answering his questions with a brief “ha” or “um”, without paying attention, as she continued to work on the blouse. The sweet little boy held on to her neck so tightly that she had to put aside her sowing and take him into her arms. She said softly, “Nayanaa! [5]Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child What do you want? You have been playing with your sister. Go, play for a little longer. I have to finish this sowing.”

The cute little boy followed her suggestion and went away. Outside, he saw the bright lights from the fireworks in front of their neighbor’s house; he clapped and laughed gleefully. He said to his mother, in his baby-like words, “Look, Amma, it is so beautiful. May I go there and watch the fireworks?”

It was not too far away from their home. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi called her daughter, Rukmini, and said to her, “My little girl! you take Ramu to watch the festivities at our neighbor’s home. Be careful, don’t go too close to the fireworks, and don’t fight with anyone there.”

The two children went to their neighbor’s home. As the mother watched them leave, her eyes were filled with tears, and her grief was hard to handle. Poor woman! Probably she remembered the first day of the festivities. It was the day of fireworks. Children had wanted to light fireworks; she managed to calm them down somehow. After that, the children never asked for them again. Now they asked for her permission to watch it at their neighbor’s home. She could not help but think of their remarkable behavior; she felt sorry again that she did not have the money to fulfill the wishes of such well-behaved children. The thought was even more painful to her. She was distressed that they did not have a good home to live in, good clothes to wear, and no sumptuous meals even on a special holiday. She was spending her days happily in the company of her worthy husband, despite several hardships they had been facing each day. However, when she thought of the pain of her children , her grief was enormous. She grieved for her children’s suffering especially because she had experienced unlimited wealth in the past.

Both Vijayalakshmi and Venkataratnam had been wealthy in their childhood. Venkataratnam was the only son of Mallayya, a prominent man in Kolakaluru village. Therefore, his wedding was celebrated on a grand scale. He was ten-years- old at the time. A sum of fifteen thousand rupees was spent on the ceremony. Oh, God! The couple, on whose wedding, fifteen thousand rupees had been spent, were not even in a position to lay their eyes on such a big amount of money now. Maybe, it is no surprise for those, whose agraharams[6]An endowment of a small township had been ruined. Anyway, Mallayya’s agraharam had been pawned partly even before Venkataratnam’s wedding took place. Yet, they continued to take out more and more loans and celebrate more and more events. Under those circumstances, Mallayya thought the time for his only son’s wedding was slipping away fast.

Mallayya took out one more loan and performed the ceremony. Venkataratnam and the family suffered unbearable, adverse circumstances. There was no food in the house. The couple were devastated as they watched the children suffer because of their poverty. During Mallayya’s time, creditors had not bothered them. But, immediately after his death, All the creditors came together and collected their dues from what was left of Venkataratnam’s assets, at the rate of one half of one rupee. Poor Venkataratnam, he had to experience the travails resulting from either the stupidity or cleverness of his ancestors. Venkataratnam was an honorable man. Although he had lived the rich life as the son of an agraharam owner, he had not acquired their bad habits, such as egotism, conceit, and indolence. The pecuniary circumstances were painful, yet he was managing because his wife was also bound by the same Dharma as he. By the time his father died, he had passed the Entrance exam. Although he was young enough to continue his studies and improve his qualifications, he had no money to do so. The time was not in his favor. He had to find a job. He joined as a clerk under Setty, a business owner, for ten rupees per month. They were managing barely with those ten rupees. It is only natural for them to worry about the children under the circumstances.

I have stated earlier that Vijayalakshmi was worried about her children’s plight. The recalled the rich life they had enjoyed previously; the way it had been destroyed, and the hardships the children had been through. She was struggling to keep her uncontrollable sorrow in check.

Just then, she heard Ramu’s cries. She stood up quickly and went to her neighbor’s house. She reached their home and saw that her neighbor was beating Ramu. She asked what had happened. The woman said that Ramu had taken a firecracker with no wick, broken it into two, and put them next to the lamp. The lamp was put out as a result. In reality, the neighbor’s child beat Ramu and Ramu started to cry. The boy was afraid that his mother might beat him. So, he turned around and said Ramu hit him first. The boy’s mother believed her son and hit Ramu as if she was beating not a little boy but an animal. Even those mothers, who usually beat their own children, would not take it, if somebody beats them like that. Imagine how difficult it was for Vijayalakshmi, who never beat her children, to see somebody beat her child. She was angry beyond words, yet, controlled herself, and brought Rukmini and Ramu home. She consoled the two children, but could not control her own grief. She was heartbroken; she told herself that her children were suffering only because of their poverty. She ran her fingers over Ramu’s bruises tenderly, and shed tears incessantly. There was nobody to comfort her. If Venkataratnam was there, he would have comforted her. Look! Even now, she was thinking of him kindly only.

Vijayalakshmi heard her husband’s footsteps, hid her sorrow, and put on a happy face. Oh! Vijayalakshmi! Who can count your fine qualities? You are so considerate of your husband’s feelings; you hide your sorrow, wipe your tears, and appear before him with a happy face, and the baby in your arms. If all women cherish similar values, imagine how our country could prosper?

Venkataratnam came home. He did not look happy and pleasant as he used to; he was sad and down. He was sweating all over. Usually, he would come home, speak to his wife with a smile, kiss the baby and then he go into the next room to change. But today, he went in, without speaking to his wife or kissing the baby.

Vijayalakshmi thought he, probably, had overworked and was tired. She started dabbing the sweat off of his face. The baby in her arms was sleepy. She went in, put the baby to bed, and returned to give him fresh clothes to change into.

Venkataratnam changed his clothes, handed the old clothes to his wife and sat down, leaning on the rolled bed on the floor. Vijayalakshmi watched his behavior, and wondered if he had a headache. He went close to him, put her palm on his forehead, and asked, “Why are you quiet today? Do you have a headache? Is it hurting bad?”

Venkataratnam said he had no headache.

She was not convinced. She asked again, “If you do not have a headache, why are you so quiet?”

Venkataratnam looked at her, and felt sad. He asked her, “Are you thinking of our misfortunes, and worrying?”

As she heard his words, Vijayalakshmi recalled the grief she had suffered a few minutes back, thought her husband might be worried in the same manner, and stifled her own grief. She put on a happy face, and said, “Is that all? Why would I worry for such a small matter? I am not worried even in the least bit.”

“Ha, you are amazing! When I think of the wealth we have had before and the miseries we are subjected to now, I feel very sad. We had a great life in the past. Now we are living in dire poverty, and that is hard. Today, all the others have put their valuable jewelry together and worshiped it. You had worn several valuable gold and diamond ornaments. But today, you do not have even one piece of jewelry on you. Are you not troubled about it, at least a little?”

Vijayalakshmi, said, “I am not troubled, not even a little bit. You are worried that we do not have riches, right? I would consider our situation the best, when I watch the egotism and the lack of judgment in some of the rich people. Had we been wealthy, we would not have had this superb pleasure, which we are enjoying by following the righteous path. As for me, I would not consider any other kind of riches other than your affection.”

Venkataratnam heard her words and cringed. The expression on his face showed the scare in his heart. He, who had been virtuous so far, showed signs of fear in his face. He was surprised; he was not sure how to respond to his wife. Finally, he picked up the courage and said, “Dear wife! What would you do with wilted affection?”

Vijayalakshmi did not notice the change of expression on his face but was distressed by his words. She said, “You are causing me only pain by such talk.”
Venkataratnam: If so, I will not speak at all. Do you not worry about our children’s sad plight a little, at least? While the others’ children wore fine clothes, ate sumptuous meals and set off fireworks merrily, our children stood there with miserable looks on their faces. Does that not bother you?

Vijayalakshmi: Why would I feel sad for that? I do not have even a little bit of sadness in me. Let it be. Why are you saying unnecessary things today? You are creating problems which are not there to start with, and then, worrying about them, why? Did our children ask for anything ever, big or small?

Venkataratnam: That is the reason I am even more depressed.

As he spoke, he chocked with sadness, “If I tell you something … never mind.“ He bit his tongue. His face looked as if he was going to say something horrible but he held back. Poor woman, Vijayalakshmi noticed his behavior; she was lost for words. After a while, she came to and asked, “You were going to say what?”

Venkataratnam collected himself, and said, “Nothing. Let it be. You spoke the truth. Why should we dwell on unimportant things and worry?” Nevertheless, while he was saying those words, the expression on his face indicated that he was hiding a secret. But Vijayalakshmi, being naive, could not understand his secrecy. She believed his words.

He said, “I am hungry. I worked hard today, and it is frustrating. Let us eat quickly and go to bed.”

Vijayalakshmi went into the kitchen, and changed into madi sari. She served him food. She ate after he was finished, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. By then, Venkataratnam was asleep. It was getting late. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi also decided not to continue to sew, and went to bed straight.

Since Vijayalakshmi was guileless, she fell asleep as soon as she lay down. But, Venkataratnam, being worried, could not sleep but pretended to have fallen asleep. The incident that had happened earlier at work kept him from sleeping comfortably.


Earlier that evening, Setty had performed Lakshmi puja, and Venkataratnam stayed there longer than usual to help them. At that time, the senior clerk, Krishnamurthy, pulled him to a side and said secretly, “Venkataratnam, I am asking your help since you are smart. You promise me that you will tell not anybody about what I am going to tell you.”

Venkataratnam had known the old clerk to be a good and trustworthy person, and so, promised him to keep his secret.

Then, Krishnamurthy said, “Venkataratnam! Did you see all this valuable jewelry they had taken out from the chest for the purpose of Lakshmi puja? This jewelry is nothing to them. In their store, they have jewelry that is thousand times more valuable. You do not know about this, do you?”

Venkataratnam could not follow where the clerk was leading, He said, “Yes, I know.”

Senior clerk: Since you know, you should also know that the entire money is in my custody.

Venkataratnam: Yes. Setty garu trusts you, immensely. Therefore, he gave you the keys to the chest.

Senior clerk: Because they have that kind of faith in me, I am engaged in an activity that will not fail them, I am sure.

The Senior clerk’s words gave rise to a little suspicion in Venkataratnam’s mind. Yet he kept quiet, waiting to hear what else he was going to say.

Senior clerk: Since they have so much money, it is not wrong if we take a little from it. And it is not going to be a big loss for him, either. For us, it rids the Lady Poverty of our lives. I am a senior clerk and my salary is only fifty rupees. And for you, it is only ten rupees. You know, it is impossible for us to run our families on such small income. You need not worry that the secret might come out. I will take care of it. This suggestion of mine must be carried out before the year-end accounting is completed. There are only two more days left for us to act. What do you say?”

As the senior clerk continued to talk, Venkataratnam became irate, and his eyes turned red. He wanted to stop him, but swallowed his irritation and kept quiet since that person was his senior and more powerful. After the senior clerk finished his speech, Venkataratnam said, “Sir! Krishnamurthy garu! If you are suggesting this to me for fun, that is all right. If it is real, your suggestion is absolutely not acceptable to me. Since I have given you my word, I will not reveal this to anybody else, though.”

From Krishnamurthy’s demeanor, it was obvious that his enthusiasm had been curtailed by the powerful argument put forth by Venkataratnam. Yet, the senior clerk was determined, and so, continued to persuade Venkataratnam.

Venkataratnam was aware of the enormous wealth of Setty, but remained steady in his stance.

The senior clerk recounted the pecuniary circumstances of Venkataratnam and the hardships his wife and children were suffering from.

Tears started flowing from Venkataratnam’s eyes as he heard his own heartbreaking plight, aa narrated by the senior clerk, who was well seasoned in business dealings. He had been around for a very long time. The senior clerk saw Venkataratnam’s tears, and said, “Venkataratnam, what is it? Am I not correct in describing the conditions of your family?”

Venkataratnam: (Wiping his tears) Yes. It has been like that for sometime.

The senior clerk: If so, why would you not take my advice?

Venkataratnam: Chi. Krishnamurthy garu! Do not speak to me like that anymore. Your words cannot change my heart.

The senior clerk was well aware of human nature. He knew that if a person’s heart turned to evil, even a little, it would be very hard to bring it back to goodness. He thought it would help if he gave him some time to think. He said, “All right. Let it be, for now. I will not talk about it anymore. You think about it all night, com to my home tomorrow, and let me know your decision. Today, it is Deepavali festival, and probably, you have nothing at home to celebrate. Therefore, take this one-hundred rupee bill. Do not say you do not want it.” So saying, the senior clerk put the bill in Venkataratnam’s pocket.

On his way home from the store, numerous thoughts rose in the mind of Venkataratnam, a family man committed to his Dharma. Should he or should he not do as the old man had asked him to do? The question was troubling. His conscience was saying that such action would ruin his good family name. At the same time, the preaching of shrewd Krishnamurthy was coming back and encouraging him to accept the clerk’s proposition. Venkataratnam reached home with that mindset. You, the intelligent readers, probably had guessed by now that it was what Venkataratnam wanted to tell his wife yet was hesitant to do so.


Venkataratnam closed his eyes and pretended to be sleeping but could not. As stated earlier, several thoughts beset him. He could not decide what he was going to do though. He noticed that his wife had fallen asleep; he got up from the bed, and was pacing back and forth. He suddenly remembered the one-hundred rupee bill, the senior clerk had given him, took it out from his pocket, went closer to the lamp, and examined it. He had come to a decision. He told himself, “Yes, I will take his advice. He said it was only to help me. Is it not so?” He turned around and looked at his wife. Then the words she had spoken a few minutes back came to his mind. He forgot at once the decision he had made earlier and told himself, “Chi. I would never do such a thing.” He looked at the children, who were sleeping next to his wife, and the sight drove away the good thought he had entertained a moment ago. He thought, “I cannot see the miseries of these little children. Besides, nobody else will know what I am going to do.”

Just then, Vijayalakshmi woke for some inexplicable reason, and sat up.

Venkataratnam was dumbfounded, and leaned back on the wall. From his hand the bill fell on the floor.

Vijayalakshmi was not aware what had happened in the past few minutes. Surprised and worried, she approached her husband and asked, “What is this? Why are up still, at this hour? What are you doing at this time of the night? You seem to be worried since evening. Can you not tell me what is bothering you?” Then she saw the bill on the floor. It broke her heart. She said, almost crying, “Sir! What is this? From where did you get it? Can you not tell me, your wife, where from you have gotten this? Today, I have seen several bad omens. I pray, please, explain this to me.”

Venkataratnam was clever, and was influenced by the senior clerk’s words. He e tried to persuade his wife but to no avail.

Vijayalakshmi shuddered at the thought, and was anguished by his words. She was angry beyond control; her eyes turned red, and started shedding tears. Even in her anger, she did not think she should keep quiet because he was her husband. She was convinced that, if she ignored it now, he would take to evil ways, and that would ruin him. It is her duty to stop that from happening. Thus, she decided not to keep quiet. She said harshly, “I suspect you did not earn this money by fair means. What is your reason for doing so? Have I ever bothered you for jewelry or fine clothes? Have the children ever pestered us for something or other? If that is the reason for harboring such evil thought, I swear on your feet[7]a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’ that I will never ask for anything, and make sure that children will not ask for anything. Please, be kind to us and stay away from evil path. You may say that others would not know of your action. Nevertheless, can you deceive the omniscient Lord and pursue your plan? If you do so, do you think your poor soul will be at peace as before? Can we have the same happiness with this stolen money as we do with the hard-earned ten rupees? Does it not bother you each time you touch it? Does it not remind you that you’ve gotten it through deception? Oh God! I cannot stop your plan. I cannot enjoy the happiness I have been enjoying so far from the present poverty.” She could not control her sorrow anymore. She wept pitiably.

Venkataratnam looked at her, pulled her close to his bosom, and said, “Oh, you are the best sati(wife). Your good words have dispelled the darkness of ignorance from my mind. I will never do a bad deed again. We will stay poor and enjoy the pleasure the righteous path bestowed on us. Oh! Only because I have a wife of impeccable virtues like you, I am redeemed from a huge sin. You are the very personification of the best in my life! The name Vijayalakshmi suits you very well. Today, I have earned the victory in the true sense of the word. A little while ago, I was worried that I did not have Goddess Lakshmi to worship, while the entire world was worshiping her. I have you, the very personification of Lakshmi right in front of me. Why should I worry about a Lakshmi made of metal? Today, I will worship only this Lakshmi.” So saying, Venkataratnam worshiped her and hugged her, who had no gold jewelry on her person but was decorated with impeccable virtues.

In that moment, Vijayalakshmi was elated and, unwittingly, leaned on his shoulder. She was worried beyond words that she had blamed her husband for no good reason. After a while, she said calmly, “You would not commit such act ever again. Is that right?”

Venkataratnam embraced her again and told her he would never do so again.

She snuggled by his fee; felt that her husband had been redeemed from a huge mistake and returned to her. Venkataratnam picked her up. They both spent the rest of the night in a hearty sleep with a clear conscience.The second day, it was Naraka Chaturdasi day[8]The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali. So, they woke up at the crack of dawn. Vijayalakshmi made Rukmini offer harati[9]A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’. to her father and brother. They all washed their hair and celebrated.

Venkataratnam received a piece of jaggary, his wife had given him, wore clean clothes, and went to Krishnamurthy, put the hundred rupee bill in front of him, and said, “I will not accept your proposition,” and turned around to leave.

Krishnamurthy stopped him, asked him to sit, and said, “You wait here until I come back,” and went into the house.

Venkataratnam sat there thinking about Krishnamurthy’s behavior; He was confused. On the previous day, Krishnamurthy had been disappointed when Venkataratnam refused to go along with his plan. Today, the same Krishnamurthy was happy about it. Venkataratnam kept thinking about the events while waiting for the senior clerk. Krishnamurthy returned along with Setty. Venkataratnam stood up respectfully.

Setty approached Venkataratnam, patted on his shoulder, and said, “Venkataratnam! You did the right thing!” Then added, “You are smart , honest and, you work hard. I wanted to test you to see if you are equally righteous. I asked Krishnamurthy to test you. You passed the test, and also your unbearable poverty. Yesterday, your heart wavered a little, I think. That was the fault of poverty, not yours. A man, who tried to commit an evil act but moved away from it, is a much greater person than the man who had never entertained an evil thought. It is possible to commit a sin by the first person but the second person will never know if he would commit an evil act. You have earned the hundred rupees you had received yesterday by sticking to your principles. I will also promote you as an assistant to Krishnamurthy with a salary of 20 rupees per month.”

Venkataratnam heard Setty’s words, and could not remain silent anymore. He did not like the praise that was being poured on him. He told them the conversation he had with his wife the night before.

Setty heard his story and was very happy. He sent for Vijayalakshmi. Setty told her, “Amma! You are Vijayalakshmi in the true sense of the term. You are like a daughter to me by virtue of your principles.”

Thereafter, Setty continued to treat Vijayalakshmi as his daughter. Venkataratnam loved his wife and treated her like a goddess. The couple enjoyed the riches they had received as a result of their courage and strength of dharma for a very long time.
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Related articles:
Bhandaru Acchamamba. The Outstanding Life and Work of Bhandaru Acchamamba.

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s Stories. A Review

Bhandaru Acchamamba. First Telugu Story Writer

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(Revised. June 6, 2022.)

References

References
1 Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities
2 Goddess of poverty
3 The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth
4 A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical contact with others
5 Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child
6 An endowment of a small township
7 a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’
8 The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali
9 A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’.
Bhandaru Acchamamba

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s stories: Review by Nidadavolu Malathi

For a decade or so, Telugu scholars started discussing the works of Bhandaru Acchamamba’s works, primarily in an attempt to show that she is the first writer among males and females to write a well-developed Telugu story in the mdoern sense. However, the purpose of this article is only review an anthology of her stories, compiled by Sangisetti Srinivas. He collected ten of twelve stories written by Acchamamba, and published it under the banner Kavile, Telangana research and referral center. The two prefaces written by Srinivas and Dr. Sujatha Reddy to this book are packed with valuable information.

Basically, we need to set ourselves in Acchamamba’s time, which is late nineteenth century, to appreciate her stories. She has used effectively I might add the language and the technique prevalent in her day to tell her stories. We can identify the social milieu and the literary experiments of her times in these stories. In that sense, Acchamamba is a pioneer in the history of Telugu short stories.

The themes in these stories include social issues, women’s education, good parenting, and economic issues in middle class families.

Here follows brief summaries of the stories:

  1. Gunavathi yagu stri” [Virtuous woman] is not her original story but retelling of an episode from a famous epic, Dasakumara charitra. The message in it is an adept woman will know how to run the household on a shoestring budget. “There is nothing remarkable in managing the household when husband is rich. When he is poor however it is hard for a woman to run the household with whatever little means they have and make him happy,” the narrator comments at the outset.

Saktikumarudu, a young man from business community, sets out with a small bag of paddy to find a suitable bride for him. His plan is to test young girls and find the one who could cook a sumptuous meal for him with that small bag of paddy. Eventually he finds a girl who proved herself and served him a meal to his satisfaction. He marries her. However, the story does not end there. He keeps testing her by hurting her in numerous ways, even bringing another woman to home. She puts up with his vagaries, passes all tests and proves herself a “Gunavathi”, virtuous woman at the end.

As stated earlier, the thought that one should be able to manage the household in times of economic hardships is a plausible quality in a person in any period. The value of prudence is timeless. The author might have chosen the episode from a purana because of the strong hold the puranas wielded on people in her day. However, the second part in this story is somewhat confusing and untenable in our day—which is the husband continuing to test wife’s capabilities after their marriage. There is no justification for that unless we fall back on the puranas and accept that the story is not Acchamamba’s original story. Possibly, Acchamamba had not weaned away completely from that kind of Puranic clutch. Or, we may find consolation in the fact that that we’ve come so far away from that point in time.

  1. “Lalithaa, Saradalu” is a children’s story.  The story is based on the basic principle, “Doing ‘good’ to that person who had harmed you is the best policy”. The line reminds us of a popular Sataka poem “upakaariki nupakaaram seyuvaade nerpari sumati.” [A man who helps him that has harmed him is competent man]

Lalitha is daughter of Tahsildar, a respectable government official. She constantly bullies other children. Sarada is a poor, well-mannered girl and well-liked girl.

One day, Sarada was in the rose garden, holding a rose and wondering why a beautiful flower like rose should have thorns also. Lalitha came there and for no obvious reason lifts her hand to hit Sarada, misses her aim, the hand falls on the rose bush next to her, and a thorn pricks her hand.

He lays hand on one of the roses and gets pricked by a thorn.  Blood oozes from the wound and she starts crying. Sarada, despite Lalitha’s evil act, nurses her wound and consoles her. Then on, they become friends. Eventually they get married and move away. After a few years, both come back to their maternal homes and meet in the same garden where Lalitha had been wounded by a thorn. Sarada asks Lalitha, “Now we both have children. How do you suggest we should raise them to be well-behaved adults?” Lalitha replies, “What can I tell you, who is so much more mature? Maybe you are testing me so I will tell you. I told my children the incident of our childhood and told them to remember that constantly. I told them that a good person always forgives the others’ mistakes but never bears a grudge against them..”

Apparently the moral goes beyond forgiveness and includes a comment on parenting skills as well. Children taught early will learn to control the negative feels such as vengeance and anger in their adulthood seems to be the primary message in this story.

  1. Janakamma” is the only daughter of a poor man Ranga Raju. Despite his pecuniary circumstances, Ranga Raju invites newcomers to town and feeds them as befitting a good host. Janakamma grows to be a young well-mannered girl and father is worried he might not be able to bring a suitable husband for her. Thanks to Ranga Raju’s generosity in the past, a rich man offers to marry Janakamma to his son and without dowry.

The story is simple and straightforward. The author seems to promote the thought that children raised by well-mannered parents will have good life later in life. Her description of the village in this story is particularly poetic and charming.

  1. Dampatula prathama kalahamu” [A Couple’s first fight] depicts the view “that woman is not man’s servant”. Apparently, the idea, what we consider modern, has actually started more than a century ago. The story opens with Lalitha, a young woman, telling her grandmother that “This is not your times. We are not servants to our husbands.” She tells her the circumstances under which she returned to grandmother’s home. Her reason appears to be trivial.

Her husband Narayana Rao told her that he had bought tickets for a play. Lalitha was upset since he had bought the tickets without consulting her first and also she had planned a trip to grandmother’s house previously.

The grandmother tells Lalitha a story (as it turns out it was her own story). There was a woman who had been quarreling with her husband constantly. The husband had gotten tired of the quarrels and left her for good.

Lalitha is moved by the story and returns to her husband. In the meantime, Narayana Rao also feels remorse for his action, and being unable to enjoy the play returns home, repentant.

The grandmother’s lessons to Lalitha are consistent with the traditional mode of thinking. First, the problem that had triggered the disagreement appears to be trivial. Secondly, the fact that her husband regretted his action appears to be modern. In the final analysis, the resolution carries the message that both husband and wife should accept responsibility for their actions. Acchamamba succeeded in showing the two sides of the issue.

  1. Satpaatradaanam” [Donating to the deserving] also carries a fresh note. A young boy called Kesavudu asks his mother to give money to a poor old beggar on the street. Mother talks to the beggar and learns that he has sons in his village who make little money but refuse to move to a more rewarding place to improve their lot. The old man apparently helps them by giving them the money he has earned as a beggar. Mother says giving money to the old man means supporting the sons who are reluctant to help themselves and that it means donating to the undeserving. The narrator’s comment, “Some animals keep digging for grass where there is none and they had hit the dirt but do not go to explore green pastures” reflects the author’s strong belief in hard work and self-reliance, which again are considered modern views.
  2. In “Strividya” [Education for women] dialogue is used as a narrative technique, which is a major departure from traditional narration. The story takes place on the eve of husband’s departure to jail as a political prisoner. He suggests she should learn how to write in order to communicate with him while he is prison. Wife is reluctant at first, giving all sorts of excuses; she can seek’s her younger brother’s help, no need for learning since she is not going to office, and so on. At the end however she is convinced of the importance of education and decides to learn how to read and write. The story includes all the arguments of those who feel that education is not necessary for women. I would say this story is worth reading at least to understand how the minds of such people work. For a translation of this story, click here.

  3. Dhanatrayodasi” [Lakshmi puja day] is a well-written story with all the elements of a good story by current standards.

The story depicts a proud woman who converts her husband to the righteous path, after he had gone amiss. The story made me think of another story, often praised as the first modern story, entitled diddubatu by highly acclaimed writer Gurajada Appa Rao.

Appa Rao depicts a man accustomed to brothel homes and his wife who pretends to leave him to teach him a lesson. It is narrated in just one incident, two pages, and we are given to understand that the man changes his ways as soon as he learns his wife left him (actually she hides under the bed and gives him that impression). In my opinion, chasing women is much bigger problem and is not that easy to quit. In that sense, I believe, Acchamamba’s story is a better story in terms of making a man alters his ways.

My point is in terms of technique, addressing an issue in a story should be consistent with the size of the issue. Bigger problems require stronger scenes to establish the extent of its impact and consequences. Smaller issues such as stealing one hundred rupees, even that to help the family, are easily resolved as in the case of Dhanatrayodasi. In terms of technique, Acchamamba has done much better job in handling it at a level appropriate for the seriousness of the issue. In the opening, in developing the theme, establishing the crux of the problem and offering solution, Acchamamba has succeeded. On the other hand, Appa Rao’s story takes a humungous issue—womanizing—and treats flippantly.

  1. Bharyaa bharthala samvaadam” [A discussion between husband and wife] is the weakest of the ten stories. The story is presented in the form of a dialogue and centers round the issue of women’s education. Wife is interested in jewelry and husband tells her that she has jewelry, which are: Modesty, humility, humbleness, good behavior, composure, integrity, kindness and helping others. These qualities are desirable in men too yet appear to be more desirable in women. As I read the list, I was reminded of sati dharma as maintained by Veeresalingam.

In this narrative, there is no really story, no development of an issue except a casual dialogue. Acchamamba wrote this story in 1903, one of her last two stories. She had written much better stories earlier. I am not sure why she did not develope this theme. One possible explanation that occurs to me is that she it might be a commissioned artilce. Hindusundari magazine, in which the story is published, might have requested her to write on this theme, being of topical interest at the time, and she quickly jotted something. I am not saying this is the reason. I am just guessing.

  1. Addamunu Satyavathiyunu” [Mirror and Satyavathi] is a story about a little girl, Sathyavathi, barely three-years-old. She who looks at her reflection in the mirror, mistakes it to be another girl and makes faces at her. To her surprise, the girl in the mirror also makes faces, which annoys Satyavathi. She complains to her grandmother, who understands the problem and tells her to smile at the little girl in the mirror. Sathyavathi smiles and finds the reflection also smiling. After she has grown up, Sathyavathi remembers this incident, and combines with her other experiences, and concludes that, “This entire world is a mirror. If we look at it angrily it looks back at us angrily and if we look at it joyously, the reflection also shows joy.” She not only cherishes this lesson but keeps telling others to do the same. Once again, the idea is so close to personality development lessons in modern times.
  • Beeda kutumbamu” [Poor family] is about a poor woman who makes living by grinding wheat, corn and maize and making flour in the rich households. At the outset, the author says this is a true story, told by one of her friends.

  • A woman, after her husband with little means died, starts working in the homes of wealthy women grinding flour day and night and raises her six children. Eventually the children grow up, take respectable jobs and live happily.

    The author might have written this story to reiterate the values of self-respect and hard work. She also stresses the need to imbibe these values in children.

    Regarding these stories, the first thing one would comment on is language. For current generation readers, reading them could pose a problem. Nevertheless, these stories are valuable and need to be read within the context of social and literary milieu of Acchamamba’s time, which is late nineteenth century. In these stories, we find pioneering and progressive views we value immensely today.

    Acchamamba depicted women as strong characters possessing plausible qualities such as self-respect and individualistic views. Today’s views on women’s education, acquiring knowledge, and personality development are present in Acchamamba’s stories written well over a century ago.

    Acchamamba, who had been inspired by Veeresalingam’s writings, did not hesitate to move away from his views on women’s dharma. While Veeresalingam professed that “women need education to be good housewives and good mothers,” Acchamamba went one step ahead and showed that education for women is necessary for their personal development.

    Her descriptions are poetic and powerful. For example, her descriptions—the village in ‘Janakamma”, the deepavali festivities in Mumbai, the wife’s thought process and husband’s dilemma in “Dhanatrayodasi” etc. are depicted with flair. In “Sugunavathi yagu stri”, she compares the face of a woman to crescent moon, implying a person feels the same pleasure when he sees her face as he when a crescent moon. In our literature it is common to compare beautiful face to full moon. In that Acchamamba’s metaphor is original.

    In her preface to the book, Dr. Sujatha Reddy commented that Acchamamba should be considered a Telangana writer since she was born in the area, lived there for sometime and also used some of the words prevalent in Telangana. To my knowledge, some of the words quoted by Sujatha Reddy are prevalent in other areas as well. Besides, limiting a writer to a particular area is not called for unless the author specifically makes a point of wanting to be named so for his or her own beliefs or pride of place. I did not find such penchant in Acchamamba.

    The compiler of this anthology, Sangisetti Srinivas, commented that “We cannot restrict her to any one area.” I tend to agree with Srinivas.

    Acchamamba’s style beats all boundaries. She is endorsing values that go beyond time and geography.

    Finally, I must extend my compliments to the compiler, Sangisetti Srinivas for collecting the stories, and making them available to the public.

    [End]

    (Published on thulika.net, March 2011.)

    The picture of Acchamamba, courtesy of te.wikipedia.org.

    (February 24, 2011)

    Bhandaru Acchamamba

    Bhandaru Acchamamba: Outstanding life & Work by Nidadavolu Malathi

    Bhandaru Acchamamba

    In the past, we have featured an analytical review of Bhandaru Acchamamba’s contribution to Telugu literature (written by Kondaveeti Satyavati) and two stories written by Acchamamba.

    Recently, I have come across Acchamamba’s monumental work, abalaa saccharitra ratnamala [Biographies of Laudable Women], volumes 1 and 2. These two volumes however are not available for purchase. Only digital copies are made available to the public by the Digital Library of India, maintained by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. I gratefully acknowledge their service.

    The first volume included detailed account of Acchamamba’s life story which is no less interesting than her monumental work, abalaa saccharitra ratnamala [Biographies of Laudable Women]. Following is the gist of her biography as given by the publishers and her introduction as appeared in the first volume:

    Acchamamba was born to Komarraju Venkatappayya and Gangamamba in 1874 in a small village called Nandigama in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh. She had a younger brother, Komarraju Lakshmana Rao, who was a prominent scholar, literary historian, social reformer, and more importantly, significant figure in Acchamamba’s education and literary pursuits.

    Acchamamba’s father strongly believed that woman’s place was at home and refused to let her receive education. After his death, mother moved with her two children to live with her step son Sankara Rao. Per custom at the time, Acchamamba was married at the age of six to her maternal uncle and widower, Bhandaru Madhava Rao. At seventeen, she was sent to live with him. Like her father, Madhava Rao was also against education for women. And Acchamamba, respecting his wishes, observed traditional sati dharma [the tenets prescribed for dutiful wife by Sastras] and the ghoshaa system [covering her face and staying out of sight of men]. Yet, she was equally determined to educate herself. She achieved her goal, after bringing her brother to her home for his education. She learned how to read and write Telugu and Hindi, sitting next to her brother while he studied. After Lakshmana Rao left for Nagpur for further studies, she continued to study on her own. She learned the local language Marathi in the same manner, by her own effort. Additionally, her brother used to visit her whenever he had vacation and helped her improve her language skills in five languages – Telugu, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Gujarati. She also learned Sanskrit, minimally though.

    Regarding English texts, Acchamamba stated that she had no knowledge of English and therefore relied heavily on the Marathi translations of major English works like Mill, Spenser and Lubbock. She commended the Marathi scholars’ fervor to producing translations of the English originals and wished that our Telugu scholars would follow their example and undertake translations from English.

    Acchamamba was a meticulous writer. She would take great pains not only to find material for her work but also double check her sources for authenticity. Sometimes, she would have to wait months and even years to find her sources and confirm she got it right. The publishers pointed out that it took four years for her to put together the second volume because of her diligence. For instance, 1903, she set out to visit her friends in Krishna and Godavari areas and then she went to Benares where she met with Sanskrit scholars and studied the Vedas in order to verify her stories of women in Vedic literature. On another occasion, she wanted to quote a sloka from Rutu samhita. She went to great lengths and found a copy of the Rutu Samhita [Vedic text] to borrow from Hyderabad.

    She had a clear notion of her project. Her brother helped her to define her goals and create the layout for her project, she added. She described her objectives as follows:

    1. Some people allege that “women are weak, dim-witted and lack commonsense. My first objective is to disprove those allegations and prove that women have been courageous, remarkably knowledgeable, highly educated; they love their country, and are politically astute, and several of them live meritorious lives. Not only that. It is also my intent to postulate that women are naturally predisposed to follow the path or virtue but not bad ways.

    2.  Second, Some gentlemen opine that, if women are educated, and given freedom, they would take to bad ways, humiliate their husbands and destroy the pleasure of family life. My aim is to establish with examples that these accusations are meaningless, and that the education would actually help them to stay away from evil paths, not turn them into bad people. The country would only benefit from the freedom women would obtain through learning, not suffer loss. Education for women is extremely important.

    3. My third objective is to write a book that is enlightening and interesting to my sisters in Andhra Pradesh. Everybody knows that real life stories yield better results than fictitious narratives. Therefore, I wish to convey the importance of pativratyam [unconditional devotion to husband], love of country, women’s education and other virtues to our Andhra sisters through these biographies.

    Acchamamba further elaborated on her methodology. According to her plan, volume 1 would cover women in the history of India. By history, she meant the period from 1000 A.D. to the present, she added. This part would include women like Padmavathi and Samyukta, and righteous women like Anandibai. (While working on this volume however she discovered some stories of women who lived in the age of Gautama Buddha, putting the date a few hundred years back to B.C.  Then, she realized that history meant the period as far back as we could unearth the stories reliably.). Volume 2 would cover the stories of women in the Vedas (Gargi, Maitreyi), Puranas (Parvati, Sita, Tara, Damayanti, Draupadi and others), and Buddhist women (no examples were given). Volume 3 would cover women from other countries like England.

    True to her convictions, Acchamamba narrates the stories with equal fervor whether it is an out of the ordinary situation (e.g. in the case of Vengamamba, regrowing hair instantaneously after her head was shaved by traditionalists), or the unusual bravado of women in royal families to save their husbands from rival kings (e.g. Vimala pretends to be a man and helps her husband escape from prison in the enemy’s palace) or simply the remarkable tolerance for suffering in the hands of husbands (e.g. Komarraju Jogamamba). For her, the ancient tenets of pativratyam were as important as the modern notion of education for women. She proved that both the standpoints are not contradictory each other but complementary.

    She stated that she had researched to the best of her ability to find women in each state and found a few in Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Had she left any names, it was only due to her ignorance, she added and asked the readers to forward the information to her so she could incorporate them in her work.

    Acchamamba also stated that her main sources were the old bakharies [documents?], prevalent stories, history books and several monthly and weekly magazines in Hindi and Marathi.

    “When I said history, I had in mind the period from 1000 A.D. to the present. As the work progressed, I found stories of some Buddhist women existing in 300 to 400 years B. C. Secondly, although I was not knowledgeable in English, I gathered several narratives from the Marathi translations of English works. Marathi scholars are proficient in enriching their language. To me, English writers like Mill, Spencer and Lubbock appear in Maharashtra attire. Telugu people need to emulate their example. Because of the texts in Marathi language, I was able to write this book without learning the English language and I commend them for their service.”

    Some of these accounts were published in women’s magazines such as Savitri, Hindusundari, and Anasuya, all popular at the time. Acchamamba also mentioned that her first volume was published in Chintamani, women’s magazine run by prominent social reformer, Kandukuri Veeresalingam.

    Acchamamba added that, chronologically speaking, the entries in the second volume should go first but she could not do so. The availability or lack thereof, made her proceed with whatever she had on hand. She said she hoped her readers would condone this minor inaccuracy on her part.

    Acchamamba also has written two books on knitting, one on crochet and the second wool, one satakam (a book of one hundred verses) and short stories. Except the short stories, the other works are not available now.

    She traveled extensively not only to gather data for her work but also to meet with prominent women scholars and discuss women’s issues. At the end of her introduction, she suggested that these elite women should get together once a year and work towards educating other women. To that end, she provided a list of contemporary women working as journalists, educationists, and social reformers with the hope that they would at least get to know each other and keep in touch with each other.

    I have mentioned at the outset that Acchamamba’s personal life is equally fascinating. The biography included in the first volume provides us with some interesting anecdotes.[i] As stated by the biographer, Acchamamba observed ghoshaa in step with her husband’s beliefs, and would not speak with men unless it was absolutely necessary and even then she would say as little as possible and leave quickly.

    Following example is given to highlight Acchamamba’s strong belief in sati dharma [Prescribed tenets for a dutiful wife]. While the she, her husband and step daughter, Meenakshamma, came for a brief visit with the author. One evening, they all finished eating supper and sat in the front room, chatting and eating paan. He was rolling the paan leaves with betel nut and handing them over to her. Acchamamba took them but would not eat. He asked her why she was not eating the paan but got no reply. Then, Meenakshamma went to the partially opened door, returned and told him, “My father has not eaten his paan yet. Until he has eaten, she would not eat.”

    In this story, what struck me as peculiar is the manner in which she managed her relationship with her husband and still achieved her goals in life. She was able to change her mind and stance on women’s education and her public activities. She educated herself, and pursued her literary and humanitarian activities, while living the life of a dutiful wife according prescribed tenets. Compromise is a great cultural value for Indian women. Several stories in the abalaa Saccharitra Ratnamala vouch for this tenet. Acchamamba followed what she preached by narrating these stories.

    Another anecdote was about her ability to be calm in the face of pain and suffering. It seems at the age of five or six she was stung by a scorpion. Unlike other children who would throw a tantrum, the little girl remained calm and quiet until a family member found out about it and treated her! Even in her childhood, she was kind, generous and adroit. Whenever her parents gave her money, she would give it to the poor, but never spent it on herself. She never thought of her own needs or suffering.

    In short, it would appear Bhandaru Acchamamba’s life and work epitomizes the Indian womanhood. She cherished traditional values, lived the life of a righteous woman and succeeded in making a difference in the lives of innumerable women remarkably.

    Bhandaru Acchamamba passed on January 18, 1905, leaving behind her grieving husband, mother, stepdaughter, several friends and ardent supporters.

    Relevant articles available on this site (s00n):

    Bhandaru Acchamamba: First story writer in Telugu

    Stories written by Acchamamba: A Review

    Women’s Education (story) by Acchamamba

    Lakshmi puja day (story) by Acchamamba

    000

    Sources:

    Acchamamba, Bhandaru. Abalaa saccharitra ratnamala available at archive.org in Telugu

    Acchamamba’s picture couresy of te.wikipedia.org.

    [i] From the preface in the second volume, the author of her life history appears to be Gadicherla Harisarvottama Rao. He claimed he was responsible for publication of the two volumes and appended his name to the preface in the second volume.

    (© Nidadavolu Malathi)