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Chaganti Somayajulu

Why would I lose it, Daddy? by Chaganti Somayajulu.

Krishna sat in the kitchen, chatting with mother with his sister in his lap. Father called him and asked him to run to the shop and buy cigarettes.

Krishna remained indoors most of the time, these days. He was reluctant to go into the streets. But now he has no choice since his father asked him to go to the shop. To go to the shop he needs to go past the high school, which he felt was a torture. All his friends, teachers might be there. Apprehensively he took the money and left for the shop.

enduku

At eight a.m. in the morning, the streets seemed to be alive with the kids running to the school. The high-school street resounded with the din made by the kids. Girls and boys were all scattered all over the road, verandas and yard in the school, laughing, chatting, and catching up with each other. Krishna sneaked to an end of the street and broke into a run. It was a useless effort anyway, since he heard some one call from the veranda, “Hey, Krishna!”

Krishna turned to look at the caller. It was Narasimham! He came running and shook Krishna by his shoulders.

“Hey, why are you not coming to school these days?” he enquired.
“I will start from Monday onwards,” Krishna replied.
“Did you buy the text books?”
“No, not yet.”
“Be quick now! Otherwise there won’t be any left for you. Remember; don’t buy notebooks in the shop! They are much cheaper in the school stores.  All the prices have increased incredibly.”

Narasimham was dressed smartly in a long-sleeve shirt, neat trousers and sandals. Krishna’s entire wardrobe consisted of a couple of shorts and shirts. They all existed nominally. The shorts were torn badly. His mother tried to repair his shirt and it ended up looking ridiculous! Krishna never asked for new trousers. He knew that shorts came cheaper than trousers. He only begged for a couple of new shorts. He argued, wept, threw tantrums and did everything he could possibly do. It was of no use. He saw the new textbook under Narasimham’s arm.
“Hey, what textbook is that?” he asked curiously.
“English textbook. I bought all the textbooks except Geography. It is still not available at the stores. Here, have a look,” he handed the book to Krishna.
Krishna leafed through the book. A nice fragrance of rose from the new textbook floated towards Krishna. He buried his face in the book for the fragrance.
“New books have such a nice smell about them, don’t they?” asked Narasimham.
“Yes, indeed! I love it.”
“Krishna, is it true that you did not top the list in the English exam last year?”
“Yes, I lost it by four marks.”
“Who topped it, then?”
“Sakuntala.”
“Really? Incredible! How much did she get?”
“Sixty eight! I got sixty-four.”
“Perhaps the teacher took pity on her since she is a girl.”
“Rubbish! She is really a very intelligent girl.”
“Yes, of course! Girls these days study so well!”

Krishna became a hero when the topic of marks and examinations came up. Everybody liked and respected him because he was such a clever boy, always topping in all the examinations. Otherwise seeing his horrible clothes no one would have ever spoken to him. He was feeling miserable, passing through the school and looking at all the kids going to school. He knew that he cannot study at the school any more and that knowledge caused him unbearable misery. His dad declared he could not afford to send him to school any more.

“How can you do that to him? If at this age we don’t send him to school what will happen to his future? Do something, send him to school,” his mother argued and begged.

“Do you think just by admitting him in school would clear up matters? He will be going to high school. Do you know how high the fees are in high school? Just admission fee and textbooks cost fifty rupees. Then papers, pens, notebooks! Where can I get that kind of money? Do you think I like doing this? It is all his and our misfortune. All my salary is just sufficient to feed all of us,” his father lamented.

Who would win the argument is yet to be known. But Krishna knew confidently that in his home it is his dad who had the last word. Hence he had given up all hopes of ever going to school and stayed indoors.

The touch and feel of the new English textbook again gave rise to swelling anxiety in his heart. Jealousy at the other kids who are going to school, disappointment at his helplessness smothered his brain like twin boa constrictors.

“Krishna, come to the school quickly. Do you know, this year we are divided into different sections? All our friends are in section ‘J’. You also should be in the same section.”
“All the way up to ‘J’? That many kids?”
“Not just ‘J’, but all the way up to ‘K’!” exclaimed Narasimham.
Krishna did a quick mental calculation and said, “That is eleven sections, just in grade 9. My God, so many students have joined this year!”
Krishna could not stand there any longer. He returned the book to Narasimham and turned to go. “Krishna, look at this picture,” Narasimham stopped him to show the book cover.A nice tricoloured picture, with farmers harvesting the crop, birds flying over the fields, very beautiful indeed!

The first bell rang indicating the beginning of the school day.  Sakuntala strolled into the yard, looking like a goddess, her arms laden with books.“Hey Krishna, guess what! I got the highest score in English last year,” she teased him as soon as
they met.
“Don’t be so happy! I got the highest in three subjects, and in Maths I got one hundred percent,”
Krishna gave it back.
“English is the most important subject, for your information” declared Sakuntala, profoundly. “No, ma’am! It is the math that is the most important subject. For that matter, Telugu is even more important, and who got the highest in Telugu, may I ask?”
“I don’t agree! I am sure English is the most important subject,” she insisted.
“No, it is Telugu. Ask anyone! I read in the newspaper that lessons to undergraduates should be taught in Telugu here after.”
“Oh yeah? As if you have read the newspaper.”
“Of course, I did. I read the newspaper daily. Our neighbours buy Andhra Patrika and I borrow it from them daily to read.”
The second bell went off, hurrying the children and the teachers into the classrooms.Narasimham was ashamed to talk to Sakuntala. He was one of the dull students in the class. Leave alone topping in examinations, he found it difficult to even scrape through them with minimum marks. Very self-consciously he remained silent all through the friendly banter. He suffered severe pangs of inferiority complex in spite of his very smart attire and Krishna’s poor clothes. He slowly
sneaked into the schoolyard without making a sound.

“The bell has rung, let us go to the class, Krishna,” said Sakuntala.
“I will come from Monday, next week.”
“I will show you who is going to top in this year’s examinations! I will not leave a single subject for you to top,” she challenged playfully.
“Don’t worry. Hereafter you will be the topper in all subjects and always.”
“Why do you say that?” she was surprised.
“Just kidding! Go on,” he tried to leave.
“Why are you not coming to my home these days? My parents asked many times about you.”
“Nothing special.”
“Ok, now I am off, or I will be late,” she ran towards the school.
“Sakuntala,” he called her.
“What is it now?” she asked impatiently.
Why did he call her? Would he tell her his problems? Of course not!
“Nothing, sorry! You go on.”
She ran into her classroom. They were of the same age, two cleverest kids in the class. Very competitive and friendly, they studied very well. He remembered her handwriting. It was very shabby! His handwriting, in contrast, was very beautiful.

He stood frozen as she ran into the school. Slowly and quietly, returned into the yard. Verandas were empty. Thousands of kids seated near their desks were imbibing knowledge. He could not move out of the yard. He felt all his depression and misery return. He walked into the veranda.

“I am not moving from here,” he was determined and leaned against the pillar.“I will not go home again,” he decided again.
His life from grade 4 flitted in front of his eyes.In grade 5 one of the students took a false complaint to the teacher against Krishna. But the teacher correctly guessed the false allegations and punished the accuser himself. In grade 8 the Telugu
teacher asked the meaning of a difficult Telugu word. He was the only one in the whole class who could answer that correctly.
In grade 7 one of the boys stopped coming to school after the term holidays. The teacher marked him absent daily. Someone told the teacher that he would not come to school any more. The teacher on that day struck the boy’s name off from the register and remarked “discontinued” against it. That was the first time he had heard the word and its meaning. He began to sob when he thought of that word and it’s meaning,

“I am not going home,” he decided even more firmly. His face turned red with all the suppressed anguish and tears. The bell rang again indicating the end of the first period.
Krishna’s father came looking for his son. He spotted the boy in the school veranda.
“Here you are! How long have you been? Where are the cigarettes?”
“Look there.”
“Where? What is there?” he looked around, unable to fathom the boy’s words.
“Now you have gone blind, is it?”
“Come on, tell me what is it?”
“Everybody is studying.”

Father looked at Krishna more carefully. He understood the son’s agony. “Is that worrying you, my boy?” he asked mildly. Krishna clung to his father’s legs and let go off all his restrained frustration. He bawled and wept forgetting his age, the place and the entire world. Sobs shook his little body and he felt his heart would break with grief any moment. Father empathized with the child’s sorrow and experienced all the trauma of the son.

“My poor baby! You are crying for that! Let us go home now, darling!”
“I will not go home,” yelled Krishna in helpless anger.
“What will you do here?”
“I will kill myself.”
Father hugged Krishna.
“Don’t say that! Let us go home now, darling.”
“This is my school.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Take me into the class room, now!”
“I will sell myself to send you to school, son, but let us go home for now.”
“Admit me now,” Krishna insisted.
“I have to arrange for the money.”
“After going home, you will say there is no money.”
“I won’t, child!”
“Then at least buy me textbooks.”
“But that too needs money.”
“OK, buy just one book then.”
“Which one?”
“English textbook.”
“Come on, I will buy it for you, don’t cry so hard, darling. It kills me to see you so unhappy.”
Krishna clutched his dad’s hand, still sobbing, he walked towards the school stores.

Father thought hard. The only solution could he think of was to stop smoking. However much he tried, he failed in that. That will give money to send Krishna to school. There was no other option.
“I gave you some money to buy cigarettes, do have the money or did you lose it somewhere?” he asked his son.
“Of course not. I have it in my pocket. Why would I lose it, daddy?” Krishna said, still sobbing.

[End]

(The Telugu original enduku pareestaanu naannaa? was published in the forties.

Translated by Sharada, Australia, on thulika.net, April, 2007.)

 

Chaganti Somayajulu

Choices by Chaganti Somayajulu (Chaso)

It was a great day for Kunti[i]. He earned a bagful of rice; that is almost two pounds. For him, it is a special holiday; the bag, filled with two pounds of rice, was hanging heavily from his shoulder and rubbing against his thigh. His face glowed with content. He would not have to worry about food for the next ten days.

Kunti went to the mango grove on the outskirts, hopping with his crippled legs. He gathered a few dried sticks for fire. He also had three mangoes, stolen earlier. He returned to the shelter, and set three stones for a make-shift stove. He pulled the clay pot from his bag and started cooking.

The red flames surged and enveloped the pot. His body, cold and curled up until now, started to unwind. He lit up a tobacco roll; the smoke filled his heart. He felt the heavy rice bag against his thigh to his heart’s content. The rice on the stove was simmering.

“Erry!” he called out.

Erry and her dad, a leper,  made their home at the other end of the patio. Erry heard his voice and came to him.

“Bring your soup dish, please?”

“What kind of soup? Ho, ho!” said Erry, with bright face.

“What kind? Mango and nelli leaf.”

Erry noticed the heavy rice bag sitting nicely by his side. Hopes filled her head, “Seems like you’ve made a bundle today. Must have seen some lucky face this morning!”[ii] she said.

“Somebody lit up campfire early in the morning. The first thing I saw in that light was your bright face,” he replied.

“Couldn’t you think of something better even the day you can afford? Stupid nelli leaf. Get some fish at least. I would have bought meat, you know,” she said teasingly, staring at the item in the pot.

“Oh, no. The entire bag of rice would be gone in a snap. I want this rice to get me through for a couple of weeks.”

“Why? Won’t you go out tomorrow again? How big a stomach you have anyways? Three cups are plenty. Come on, get some fish,” she said. With that, Erry summed up the entire philosophy of the beggars community—the fundamentals of their economics. All that a beggar needs is three cups of rice to get by on any given day; and any beggar can get that much, if he or she could find one or two generous women on their route. That thought gives a lot of strength to the people in their community.

Kunti got up, and hopped his way to the old woman’s store.

The old woman sells groceries, vegetables, and firewood to the beggars. She gives him some dried fish and other spices for the soup in exchange for a cup of rice.

Erry brought her soup dish.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” she said.

“I know what you are going to ask,” he replied.

“What?”

“Rice!”

“Dad is sick. He could not go out for over three days now.”

“No. I will not.”

“I am not asking you for free. Let me borrow the rice today. Next time you are short, you can take from us.”

“No. I will not.”

“Hey, come on.”

“You go and ask that horse-cart driver. You like him.”

“You idiot! The horse-cart driver has left me.”

“Go away. He lets you sit in his cart, and wields his whip with tussles; you like that. Go to him.”

“He is married now.”

“Then, go to the other bum. I am no good; you think even that bum is better than I. An, you ask me for rice?”

“Do you know what the bum had done? One day, at midnight he got drunk, and came on to me. ‘What would you say?’ he asked me. ‘Give me a rupee,” I said. ‘Do I look like I have a rupee on me?’ he said. Then, I told him to go and get more drunk. He looked around furtively, like he was being vigilant, and then pulled out a rupee. The bums are crooks, you know. They have a lot of money. You tell me, is there anything you had ever given me?”

“What do I have to give you?”

“Whatever you have …”

“If I have …”

“What are going to do with all that rice?”

“Okay, take it. I am telling you, you must keep your word, though.”

That night Kunti begged Erry in any number of ways; he wanted to marry her desperately. He promised her that he would move in with them, and stay with them, if only she agreed to marry him and cook for him. Erry was touched.

The next day, Erry and Kunti cooked their meals together, and sat down to eat. Erry cooked fish soup again. All the other beggars in the shelter relished the fine aroma from her soup. The old man was down with fever; he also was woken by the smell.

“Who is he?” he asked Erry.

“Right from here, you know Kunti,” she replied.

“Why is he here?”

“We did the cooking together.”

“Together?”

“Yes, Maama[iii]. We are together,” Kunti replied.

The old man looked at him, gruffly. “You dirty rogue, get out of my sight,” he shouted.

“Why are you mad? I am not all that bad, you know,” Kunti said.

“I know alright. Get out of my face, you low life.”

Kunti was ruffled. “Are you calling me a low life? I am a Kapu boy[iv]; probably you don’t know. Ha! You are talking like your girl is a princess. She slept with that horse-cart driver. That driver is a Mala boy,” Kunti yells back with a gruff.

The old man stood and and kicked the soup bowl. It turned into a big brawl. The other beggars intervened and calmed them down. Kunti left, hopping away.

“Couldn’t you find a better guy than that idiot? I am going to find a man, the right one for you,” the old man guffawed and left.

Kunti returned. “Did you hear what your dad had said?” he asked her.

“What can I do?” Erry said, weakly.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Come with me.”

“To where?”

“What do you mean where? Anywhere. We have all the way up to Rameswaram[v], our world has no bounds.”

“What about the old man?”

“He is not your problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let him take care of himself.”

“Gosh, you scoundrel! You want me to leave the sick man, and fool around with you?”

“Only, if you like.”

“Go, go away,” she screamed.

Kunti curled up in a corner, lay down like a caterpillar, and covered himself with a gunnysack.

Erry poured the soup in a bowl, picked up a couple of peppers as a side dish, and went to Kunti, and woke him up.

“Here, you had better eat it, before my dad came back. I can’t take his hollering.”

“Go away, I don’t want your food,” Kunti said. He did not get up. Erry kept imploring, but he would not listen.

The old man returned, with Guddi[vi] and called out, “Erry, come here.

“Cook for three people, today. Guddi is here; remember him?”

Erry knew him. Long time ago, they all went to Srikurmam on a pilgrimage.

“How are you?” Guddi said.

“What can I say? The old man is sick,” Erry replied.

“Well, he is getting old,” Guddi said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Yeah, that is true,” Erry said.

“Erry, starting today, we three are family. Cook for all the three of us,” the old man said.

Erry was ticked off; she was beside herself. She was aware that the old man had brought her into this world, and has been taking care of her; now, he is suggesting her marriage with the blind man; the old man is unable to see that Kunti is a fine man, and that he is crazy about her. The fact that the old man pushing away Kunti annoyed her. She failed to see her dad’s logic. What is the point? She cannot say ‘no’; she has to go along with dad’s proposition. He raised her.

At the other end of the patio, Kunti curled up like a rolled straw mat. He did not eat. She cooked his rice and the thought was killing him.

“Erry, you are really stupid[vii]. I am telling you, you don’t understand, you really are stupid,” the old man said.

Erry was ready to break down.

“You, come here,” the old man took her to a side, and asked her, “Did you see Guddi, I mean, did you take a good look at him?”

Of course, she saw him. She had known him for a long time. His body was dark like a boulder; and he covered his forehead with a huge smack of white paste; his eyeballs, popped up like cotton balls, and hung from his eye sockets; she was scared of his looks.

“Yes. I have seen him,” Erry replied, scratching her thigh.

“You are stuck on Kunti,” the old man said, teasingly.

“I am not stuck on anybody,” she replied.

“Come on, tell the truth. Tell me, really.”

“I don’t know.”

“You want Kunti.”

“Whatever you say…”

“Now, we are talking. That is good; that’s how the world sees it, you know. Listen to me,” the old man said.

Of course, she would listen. What other choice she has? If he says jump, she has to jump; he says take him, she has to take him. She is not free to say ‘no’, even when her heart is set elsewhere. She has no strength to rebel; it is not in her nature. Where is he getting his strength from? An old man, rotting with leprosy and on the verge of death, yet powerful enough to dictate terms to her. The parents who raise children will earn that power over their children. The children show kind of respect toward parents.

“Did I say no?” Erry said.

“You tell me the difference between the two men,” he asked her.

“Kunti is brawny; Guddi looks scary.”

“Don’t I look scary with all these sores? How come you are not scared of me? You have no problem feeding me?”

“You are my dad!”

“I am okay ‘cause I am your dad; well, he will be okay too after you are married to him. You start living with him, and he turns out to be okay. Kunti is no good for you.”

“Why not?” she asked dad.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean is he not good enough to bring home three cups of rice a day?”

“That is exactly my point. Listen to me,” the old man said, and delivered a long sermon, encapsulating the entire philosophy of the panhandlers community in that brief speech:

“I don’t want you to blame me later and say I did not take care of you while I was alive. You will not be happy if you go with Kunti. Listen carefully, and mark my words now. Check them again after a decade or so. When a cripple goes out for begging, people shut the door in his face. Nobody is kind to a cripple. He will be living off of you; he will sell you to other men. On the had, the blind man is a charmer, a prince without eyes. That is the biggest plus in his favor. Everybody will be kind to him. Women are kind to blind men; they will gladly give rice to a blind man. Besides, he is a great singer. He knows so many lyrics. You take him to some street corner, spread a sheet in front of him, and you wander away as you please. When he starts thumping his cymbals and singing, I am telling you, he will make a rupee a day, at the least. That is your proof. You see his body? He is strong like a shovel; he is not like me, you know, no diseases, no problems, not so much as a sneeze. He will have no problem earning enough for both of you. And also, he will be counting on you for help, he has to; and so, he will live by your rules. He will not bother you; no matter where you go, what you do. You can do anything you want, and he could not care less… Do you see what I mean? Wouldn’t you agree?”

“What can I say?” Erry mumbled.

“Just listen to me. Don’t let go of him.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Nobody really knows this big secret. All the beggar girls must go around looking for blind men, and marry only blind men, if you ask me.”

“Let’s go.”

Erry and her dad returned to the shelter.

“Hey, Guddi! Erry has agreed. I am sure she will not change her mind,” the old man told Guddi jubilantly. Guddi was ecstatic. For a man like him, to have a woman like Erry is a blessing!

He went to Erry, pulled out the stash he kept tied to his waist, and said, “Erry, here is my bag. Take this money and buy yourself anklets.”

It was a huge bag, filled with loose change. Erry’s eyes dazzled as she looked at the hoard. She did not expect Guddi to be that rich.

“I want red beads necklace,” she said. She had been dreaming about a red bead necklace for a long time.

“Then, you buy the red bead necklace and also silver anklets. That is what makes a woman a woman—her anklets, you know. Anklets adds to a woman’s beauty very much,” he said. The sounds of anklets probably awaken sweet thoughts in a blind man!

“Alright. Let’s go, have something to eat,” the old man said.

Erry served food for all the three, and handed Guddi his bowl.

“That’s my girl. Feed him well, and serve some for me too. You two together, make my day. I am telling you, Erry, do not let go of the blind man. Then, you make me happy as long as I live,” the old man said.

 

[End]

 

[The Telugu Original, Empu was first published in Arasam special issue in September 1945 and  included in the anthology, Chaso kathalu, 1968. Translated by Nidadasvolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, June 2002.]

Translator’s note: The story shows us the economic philosophy underlying the beggars’ lifestyle, the choices they make, and their rationalization–a mode of thinking that is normally attributed to the middle class in our society. The author underscores the universality of this theme—the parent’s anxiety about a daughter’s welfare and the inherent desire for a better life in general, present in all human beings regardless of their economic status.

The one sentence in the story, “The old man’s speech is Upanishad for the beggar community: upanyaasam mushTi lokaaniki upanishattu ” sums up author’s perception of their reality.



[i] Literally, a crippled person. The physical disabilities are used as proper nouns in this story.

[ii] A common belief that the first face a person sees in the morning could affect one’s luck for the day. In Telugu: mukha visesham, or, evarimoham chusaano/choosaavo.

[iii] Kunti uses relational term maama, suggestive of proposed marriage.

[iv] Kapu and Mala are subcastes. The speaker is referring to the hierarchy, high and low, within the lower castes.

[v] A temple town in South India.

[vi] Literally Guddi means a blind person. Like Kunti, Guddi is used as a proper noun.

[vii] Erry literally means stupid.