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Chataka Birds part 6


The election fever took over the entire atmosphere at the college and spread even to the students’ homes. Geetha learned quite a few things not only from Syam’s lectures but also from other students on campus. Especially, things about castes was quite an education for her. If a Kamma girl competed with a Reddy girl, all the Kamma girls supported her. Nayudu students joined the Reddy girls. Brahmins supported the Nayudu girl but not the Reddy girl. All this mix and match of castes made no sense to Geetha. She also found out that the poor supported the rich; nobody supported the poor; a woman, who dressed up like a movie star, got plenty of followers; nobody cared about the woman, who was simple and wore plain clothes. She tried to see some rationale underlying this mania but found none. The entire ruckus about the election appeared to be more perplexing than the nature of Lord Brahma. It is stupid, if you ask me, she told herself.
At home, Syam’s craze for Mary heated up, much to the discomfort of Geetha. Kanakam noticed it too. She stepped up her efforts to shield Geetha without making a fuss about it. Geetha was in a fix; she could not tell Syam to cut it out, nor could she explain the real problem with Syam to Kanakam.
“Why are you so fixated on Mary?” Geetha asked Syam one day.
“What do you mean why? How could you be so calm about the things that are happening at your college? As citizens, we must pay attentions to what is happening around us and in the country. That is our duty,” he said, reiterating some hollow speeches he had heard.
“But all your concern is only about Mary.”
“That is a talk by the narrow-minded. If Mary is not a girl, you would not raise this question, would you?”
“If Mary is not a girl, would you still be so excited about this election?”
The question sent him reeling. He pulled up straight, went on rambling randomly, “Look, little sister, you need to expand your horizon. You should stop thinking about people as girls and boys. You should get involved in local matters. Unfortunately, we are in a country where shouting ‘rape’ has become common just for a boy looking at a girl. That is so small-minded thinking. We have to change. In other countries, this is not like that at all. There, men and women walk around hand in hand, and kiss in public. Nobody thinks of it as immoral, much less a transgression.”
His rambling made no sense to Geetha. She saw no relevance between her question and his answer. She asked again, “Tell me this. Are you focused on the elections or Mary?”
Syam was annoyed. “You are coming to the same point over and again. Your entire question is because Mary is a girl, and I am a boy.”
“Is that not so?”
“That is not the point. Your question should be about the main issue. I am committed to one ideology, not to one person.”
“Oh!” Geetha said. She thought that Syam probably was a great philosopher, and that his mode of thinking was too complicated for a simpleton like herself.

The election fever peaked in town. Not only in the women’s college but also in men’s college, it raged uncontrollably. One day, one party’s cronies grabbed their opponent, took him to a deserted place, marred him with blades, and left him to bleed under the bridge. Somebody told his parents about the incident. They ran to the place with heartbreaking sobs, and took him to a nearby hospital.
The District Collector learned about the incident, canceled the elections, and told the principals of both colleges to find an alternative method of electing the college president.
Students in both colleges lost interest in the elections. They all were looking for peace on their campuses. That incident threw Geetha off her mindset; it crushed her spirits. Satyam, who was usually calm and collected, also was worried sick. That wounded boy and she were childhood friends, she said. She wanted to visit him at the hospital and asked Geetha to go with her. Geetha did not like it, but she agreed to her friend’s request; she wanted to be there for her friend.
At the hospital, the boy’s parents sat on a bench on the porch, crying their hearts out. They said he was their only son, and were hoping he would finish college and help them out in their old age. Inside the room, the boy lay on the bed, wrapped up in bandages; barely identifiable. Geetha could not stand the sight; she turned back and left quickly. After a few minutes, Satyam came out. Both expressed their sympathies to the parents and took leave of them. They went into the front-yard, sat down under the Neem tree. Satyam broke into heartrending sobs. Geetha could not weep; her heart and brain froze.

Geetha entered the hallway with a livid face. Kanakam was there, sitting by the window and reading Bhagavatam. She was alarmed to see Geetha’s pale face. “What happened? Are you alright?” she closed the book and asked her with concern.
Geetha said, “nothing,” as she threw herself on the sofa. She could not control herself anymore. She told Kanakam about the tragic event, and her trip to the hospital with Satyam; she broke into big, uncontrollable sobs.
Kanakam took her into her arms, and consoled her the best she could. She said gently, “Come, come, you need to be brave. Why did you go to the hospital, anyway? Don’t go there ever again.” She also decided to warn Satyam not to take Geetha to such places again.
That night, Geetha could not eat food. Kanakam sat by her side, and made her take a few bites, almost by force.
It took considerable time for Geetha to recover from the shock. She had not seen the hatred and violence at that level, ever. Kanakam was also getting more and more worried about her. “I told you,” she said to her husband, and blamed him for the situation Geetha was in. The couple took her to the movies for a diversion. They even arranged a party, just to keep her mind off the topic.
Geetha noticed how worried they were about her and tried to collect herself. She poured herself on her books, hoping they would feel better.
The following week, Bhanumurthy called and asked them to send Geetha home on the next Friday.
Kanakam said, with a chuckle, “Why? Is your Vadina garu homesick for her little girl? Tell her Geetha is fine, no worries.”
“Oh, no, no. We know she is safe at your home, as good as being in a royal palace. We want her to be here for pellichupulu[1]A preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.. It is set for upcoming Monday.”
“What? Pellichulu now? She just started college!” Kanakam said. She felt like she had an obligation to protect Geetha and her education from other distractions.
“Well, nothing is settled yet. This is only a start, not the end, right. Pellichupulu does not mean the wedding is set to go.”
“If you are not sure it is not going to happen, why arrange it at all? For her, it would be a distraction.”
“Probably, we too would talk like that, if my brother had all boys.” He took a sly jab at her because she had only boys, and that hurt her.
“Fine. I will tell Uncle later. He is still at work,” Kanakam replied, sounding sour, and hung up.
Later in the evening, she gave the message to Siva Rao.
“Now? She just started college,” he said.
“Um. Their daughter, their decision. Whatever pleases them,” Kanakam said, struggling to hide her irritation. She was still rancid about Bhanumurthy’s crack at her kids being all boys.
“Okay. Is that all? Did he say anything else?”
“Not much. Naturally, girl’s parents would like to see their girl married as soon as possible, and feel good about completing their duty. We can’t blame them,” Kanakam said.
“She is barely seventeen. If they keeping drumming up the song ‘marriage’, how can she stay focused on her studies?”
“That is the way the girl’s parents think. They are anxious to do what is right for any parent. We can’t blame them either.”
Siva Rao shook his head, called Geetha and asked if she would like to go home for the weekend.
Her face lit up like on a Diwali day. She nodded eagerly.
Kanakam felt a little jab at heart; no matter however caring and loving she was, it was not equal to mother’s love; the girl’s heart was anchored in her mother!, she told herself.
“I will put you on the bus here, and tell Bhanumurthy about her arrival. He will meet you at the bus station and take you home.”
Geetha agreed, but it did not sound right for Kanakam. “They might think we are irresponsible if we send her alone. Why don’t you go with her?” Kanakam said.
“I can’t. I have business to take care of. How about sending Syam with her?”
“Why Syam?” Kanakam quickly expressed her objection. She had noticed that he had been around Geetha a little too much, and that was uncomfortable for her.
Finally, the couple decided to send their fourth son, Jagadeesh, with her, just to be on the safe side. For her, it did not make sense. How a boy ten years younger than she could be her protector? She, however, did not want to make a fuss about it, she let it go.
Siva Rao called Bhanumurthy and told him about the time of Geetha’s arrival in Vijayawada. Bhanumurthy assured him that he would be at the bus station and receive Geetha and Jagadeesh.


June 17, 2022)


1 A preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.

Chataka Birds part 5


Geetha got out of the car and walked slowly behind Siva Rao. As she appeared at the doorway, Kanakamma, Siva Rao’s wife, came to her, with an inviting smile. She put her arm around Geetha’s shoulders and walked her into the house. Her gesture made Geetha happy.
Siva Rao watched them walk into the house, arm in arm. He was pleased and felt that he had made a right decision.
Kanakamma walked Geetha to the sofa, and said, “Sit down. I will bring coffee,” and went into the kitchen.
Siva Rao sat next to Geetha, and stroking her hair gently, said, “Don’t you worry. Attayya is just like your mother. Don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you want or need. Nothing to worry. You can go home for holidays. I will take you myself.”
Geetha nodded yes.
Kanakamma gave the coffee cups to them and inquired about each one of her family. Geetha replied that all of them were doing well. And then Kanakamma asked if Geetha would take a bath.
Geetha shook her head side to side no. Something was holding her back from moving from her seat.
“Take a bath. You will feel relaxed,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha got up, and went in, took a saree and blouse, came back, and looked at Kanakamma. She said, “come on,” and led her the bathroom.
She came back. Siva Rao told Kanakamma the reason for bringing Geetha to their home.
“That is a hasty decision,” she said.
“What do you mean by hasty? I am sure I have thought it through. She is a smart girl. Paramesam is in no position to send her to college. We always wanted to have a girl. Would it not be wonderful to see a girl walking around in our home?” Siva Rao put forth all his arguments.
In matters like these, men are short-sighted; they do not think clearly. They may lecture at meetings or write long articles, but do not show any understanding of having a girl at home. Only women have a good understanding of such situations.
“She is still young, yet to grow up. She should be under the care of her mother. We do wish her well, no doubt. As they say, think of the bad and the good. See, they mentioned the bad first,” Kanakamma said, with the shrewdness of a worldly wise woman.
Siva Rao stared into his wife’s face straight. “How could anything bad happen while you are there for her, like a mother?”
“That’s what I am fretting about. You do as you please, make promises, and then pass them on to me, without a care in the world. We have grown boys here. We wish and hope things go smoothly. Did you ever think that one of our boys could act up in a crazy moment?”
Siva Rao took a second to respond. “Alright, let’s say our boy shows some interest in her. We can arrange their marriage, can’t we? You know Paramesam cannot get any better match for her.”
Kanakamma, short of beating her head, said, “That is what I am worried about. You are only thinking from your side. I know I am his mother, so, I should not be saying this. But think about it. Can you honestly say that our boy deserves her?”
Siva Rao was stunned. For the first time, he got it; she was talking about their son’s behavior. Their son was not exactly a model boy, and was frequently getting into trouble at school, and in the neighborhood as well. Kanakamma and Siva Rao tried their best to teach him some manners, but to no avail. Kanakamma was aware of that. Siva Rao understood it, only after she had pointed it out.

Siva Rao accompanied Geetha to admit her into the college. He paid the late fee and completed the admission process. The following day, Geetha set out to go to attend the class. Siva the fear on her face, and decided to go with her. He got into the car, and on the way to the college, he stopped in front of a house and called out, “Ammayi[1]Ammayi: Girl. Satyam!”
A young woman pushed aside the old saree, used as a curtain, and stepped outside. Geetha looked at her. The girl was of average height, fair complexion, and not stunningly beautiful; but, any passerby may turn around to take a second look at her because of her sharp eyes.
“Mamayya garu!” she said, acknowledging him.
“Aren’t you going to college?”
“I am, Mamayya garu! I am just about to leave,” Satyam replied.
“Me too. Come, get into the car. I will drop you there. This is Geetha. Consider her as our girl. She is new here, you know. I was hoping you will show her around.”
“I will, Mamayya garu. I will do so. Wait for a second. I will get my books,” she said, and went in.
Papamma, Satyam’s mother, came in, wiping her hands on her sari end, and greeted Siva Rao, “How are you Babu[2]Babu: Sir, a polite address to male adults. garu?”
He said he and his family were doing well, and inquired about her well-being, and told her to ask him if they needed anything.
Satyam returned with books and got into the car. The car left, heading toward college.

Geetha got used to Siva’s home, Kanakamma atta, their sons and the college environment. Satyam became her best friend. Most of the time, Geetha did not see the boys; it was like they all were dodging her on purpose. The only exception was Syam, their second son. Lately, he was talking to Geetha, for some reason or other.
One day, Syam came into the room while Geetha was studying. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. I have to write an essay for my Telugu class, it is due tomorrow. Studying for the essay,” she said, put a piece of paper for a bookmark, and closed it.
“I heard nominations were called for student president in your college.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, they did, I know. Probably, Rani Rao will contest again. She knows nothing. she is stupid. You must support Govindamma.”
“Because Govindamma belongs to our caste. Besides Rani Rao nincompoop, knows nothing. Muslims and Christians support her, and they comprise not even 30% of the students. Mary is running for secretary position. That’s why you need to support Govindamma.”
Geetha’s jaw fell. She looked at him with amazement.
“Govindamma is one of ours. Rani Rao is arrogant. Actually, she has no support at all. You may think Muslims and Christians support her, but they are only 30%. Mary is her running mate. Mary is an amazing person. That’s why you must support Govindamma.”
Geetha was dumbfounded. He was tiptoeing around her like a shadow, barely visible; and yet, he was so knowledgeable in local politics? And how was it possible that he knew so much about the elections in her college?
“But Mary is Christian, is it not?”
“In fact, she belongs to our caste. Three generations back, her ancestors converted to Christianity but they are really one of us. She is devoted to our Gods and religion. She goes to Hanuman temple every Saturday.”
Syam also went to Hanuman temple on Saturdays, regularly. Now she understood his devotion to Lord Hanuman. She was amused.
“What are you two talking about?” Kanakam came into the room.
“Nothing,” Syam said, and left quickly.
“He is a chatterbox. You stay focused on your studies. Let me know if he bothers you. I will talk to him,” Kanakam said and left.
Syam reappeared as soon as Kanakam left.
Geetha cringed; Kanakam’s words were still fresh in her mind.
“Look, I don’t know why my mother is annoyed about me talking with you. I would like to talk with you only because I have no sisters. You are like a sister I never had. That is all I am saying,” he said, sounding brotherly.
That made sense, Geetha thought. “It’s okay, I understand. I have to study, though,” she said.
Kanakam called for Syam from the adjoining room.
Syam quickly shoved a small note in Geetha’s hand, saying, “this… this,” and left in a hurry.
Geetha shivered. The paper in her fist soaked wet with sweat.
“Still studying,” Kanakam came. It was her habit. Every night, Geetha would fall asleep leaning on the book she was reading, and Kanakam would come in, wake her up, help her to her bed, and then, she puts away the books, and turns off the light.
“I could not sleep,” Geetha said.
“Just lie down, close your eyes. You will fall asleep soon,” Kanakam said, taking away the book from her.
Geetha went to bed and lay down, pulling the sheet over. The scrap of paper was getting scrunched in her fist. The stories she had read and the movies she had seen were fluttering around in her head. She waited until after everybody was asleep, and then went into the bathroom. She opened the fist slowly, straightened the scrunched note, with her heart beating twice as fast. It read, “Tell Mary to come to Hanuman Temple tomorrow. Urgent.”
It was not signed, but it was obvious who wrote it and what it meant. Disappointment rose at her heart, just for a split second. It took two minutes for her to realize what she had expected and what had happened. It took her all night to figure out what she should do under the circumstances.
Next morning, she prayed to all the thousand Gods and hoped she did not see Syam again. The Gods must have heard her prayers; Syam was nowhere to be found. He told his mother that he had an early session and left very early in the morning.
At college, Geetha racked her brains all morning, and finally asked Satyam who Mary was.
“Why?” Satyam asked.
“Nothing. I just thought it would be nice to know. She is running for the Secretary position, so, I should know a little about her?”
“Did Syam say so?”
“How do you know?”
“Ha ha! You are living in the age of Lord Rama. You think people can keep such things secret. The entire city knows about Syamasundarudu, maiden Mariamma,[3]Satyam was sarcastic. She compared Syam and Mary to Syamasundarudu (Lord Krishna) and Mariamma(Virgin Mary in the Bible). and their circumambulations around Hanuman temple.”
Geetha was stunned. She thought she had an inscrutable secret in her palm; and, Satyam dismissed it with a snarl.
“There,” Satyam pointed toward a skinny girl at a distance. As Geetha stepped toward that girl, Satyam gripped her arm, and said, “Look Geetha, you are smart enough to study well and get great marks. Don’t get me wrong, but you need to have a different kind of brains to deliver these messages. Why do you want to get into this muck?”
Geetha stopped for a second and then went to Mary. She handed the note to her and said, “Syam asked me to give it to you.”
Mary grabbed the note without looking at Geetha and left quickly. Geetha remembered Satyam’s advice; probably she knew a lot about Mary, Geetha thought.
At home, Syam was nowhere to be found. His younger brother, Jagadeesh, said Syam went to the movies. Suddenly she felt like she was all alone, wanted to talk to somebody.
“Can I go to Satyam?” she asked Kanakam.
“It is getting dark. Not safe to go out now.”
“Can I go to Hanuman temple? It is only one street away.”
“That is a good idea. Let’s go. I will go with you.”
They both went to the temple. At the temple, Geetha kept looking around as if she was looking for somebody. Kanakam noticed it and thought that she might be homesick.


(June 10, 2022)


1 Ammayi: Girl.
2 Babu: Sir, a polite address to male adults.
3 Satyam was sarcastic. She compared Syam and Mary to Syamasundarudu (Lord Krishna) and Mariamma(Virgin Mary in the Bible).

Chataka Birds part 4

“So, what is new, Anna[1]Anna – Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Like I said, my eldest son is getting married on June 25th. You all should come to the wedding.”
“Nice. Who is the girl?”
“She is from Tadiparti family; well-respected in their town. She is the youngest; just finished first year of college. Nice girl, well-mannered and cordial. We heard a lot of good things about the family and the girl, too. We are sure she fits well into our family.”
“Good, that’s all we look for, right?” Kamakshi said.
Siva Rao turned to Geetha and asked, “Geetha, how’re you? Coming from college?”
“No, Mamayya[2] Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related. garu, coming from Hindi class.”
“Why aren’t you in college?” he said to her, and turned to Kamakshi. “Why is she not in college? It is not like your husband has lots of money to pass on to the kids. Why not give them a good education, at least?” he said, expressing his genuine concern and business acumen.
“You have to ask only your friend,” Kamakshi said, implying it was not her fault. Her brother’s offer and the family’s response were a sore point for her.
“I will for sure, let him come. I do not mince words,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha approached her mother, and said softly, “Haven’t we had enough bickering about it? Why start again?”
“What did I say? He asked me why we didn’t send you to college, and I said he should ask your father. Isn’t it a fact?” she said, sounding innocent.
“What is Bhanumurthy doing?” Siva Rao asked.
“He is working in a telephone company.”
“Making good money?”
“He gets 300 rupees per month, and some OTs (overtime) too.”
“What?” Siva Rao said; he was lost in his own thoughts for a moment.
“OTs or something, I am not sure; he gets more money for working more hours.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good,” Siva Rao stood up. he told them he had some business in town to take care and would be back soon.
It was dark by the time Paramesam came home. The clock struck 9 by the time Siva Rao returned home.
Paramesam was delighted to see his friend. “I was waiting for you. What is the rush? Why run off like that as soon as you’ve gotten off the train? Could you not take it easy for one afternoon? Can’t your business wait until tomorrow?” he expressed mild displeasure, like any good friend.
“Ha ha. If I were a schoolteacher like you, I would go to work on the stroke of ten, return home at 4:00 sharp, and while away my time like a jolly good fella. For us, business folks, there is no work time, free time, supper time, sleep time, and so on. It is all one long stretch of business time. We must be alert round the clock, or, we will fall prey to some crook,” Siva Rao replied, laughing.
“Cute, Siva! As Robert Frost has said, you do not know what lies on the road you have not taken. Had you been a teacher, you would not use words like ‘jolly good fella’ and ‘while away time’,” Paramesam said, sounding asinine.
“Alright, I will admit I misspoke. Don’t you start lecturing me now.”
“Enough talk; it’s getting late. Food is getting cold. Come on,” Kamakshi said, walking into the kitchen.
At supper, Siva Rao returned to the topic again. Paramesam was not prepared for it, though. His oldest son was in college, and there was the youngest Chitti to think about. Paramesam mentioned the same in defense of his position.
“This is the problem with our families. They will have more children than they can feed, and then say God will take care of them.”
“Are you lecturing me on family planning? Interesting. You have how many, sir? Two or three?” Paramesam said, teasingly.
“Alright, I admit I have six. But, I am also making enough to provide for all of them.”
Kamashi was serving rice into his plate. Siva Rao put his hand across his plate, and said, “No, Chellamma, I am full, have had more than enough. Please, no more.”
She went in and brought yogurt.
Bhanumurthy came home, washed hands and feet, and sat down next to his brother.
Siva Rao greeted him with a smile, and asked him how he was doing.
Bhanumurthy replied he was fine.
“You can argue all you want, Paramesam. I strongly believe that girls should be educated just like boys, no excetion,” he said, as his final thought.
“I have to be realistic, Siva. It is beyond my means. The oldest boy is in college. It takes two more years to get his degree. And there is one more, besides Geetha. I have to keep in mind him education too, you know.”
“Okay, as you please,” Siva Rao ended it there.
Paramesam did not want Siva take him the wrong way. “Hopefully, we will find a suitable match for her soon,” he said, as an explanation.
Siva Rao was surprised. “She is barely sixteen. Marriage already?”
Paramesam offered as many explanations as possible: She is not a baby; the higher the girl’s education the higher the boy’s education has to be; the higher the boy’s education the higher the demand for dowry would be.
“I understand. Here is another way. You keep looking for a groom. In the meantime, let her continue her studies,” Siva Rao said.
“Why does she need a college education? Is it necessary to serve a morsel of food to her man?” Bhanumurthy asked.
“Are you saying that her education comes in the way to serve a morsel of food?”
“That’s not what I am saying. I am saying it is useless. Look at Vadina. What education did she have? None, right? Yet, she is managing the entire family superbly.”
“Aha, talk about my education!” Kamakshi was not happy that the discussion had gone astray.
“Oh, no, Vadina! Today I am here; whatever I have accomplished, it is only because of you. Had you not supported me, God only knows where I would have ended,” Bhanumurthy said, genuinely appreciative of her.
Kamakshi’s face lit up for a second; his words were soothing. In the next minute, however, she felt let down as the topic changed. That did not escape the eyes of both Paramesam and Siva Rao. Both understood her mode of thinking. One of them was content and the other disappointed. For the same reason, one of them was determined to cut short the discussion, and the other to continue it.
“Listen to me, Paramesam. Let’s forget all this talk about the need for education for girls for a second. You too know that boys nowadays prefer educated girls. You wish the boy should be a graduate at least; and a boy with a bachelor’s degree does not make a lot of money. So, they hope a girl with a degree could help financially, in case a necessity arises. Whether the in-laws send her to work is up to them. I think there is nothing wrong with being prepared,” said Siva Rao.
“You have six sons. You can say anything you please. I just can’t put four children through college, with my income. That is the stark reality,” Paramesam replied.
“Ah, come on, you are talking like you’re penniless.”
“You are arguing like you are hell-bent on her getting a college degree. How about you take her with you, and put her through college in Guntur?” Bhanumurthy said.
His suggestion startled all the other three adults in the room. It was totally unexpected and, somewhat, inappropriate.
“You shut up, nitwit,” Paramesam yelled at him.
“Cute. I have said it so many times, ‘don’t say nothing, if you have nothing worth saying to say’,” Kamakshi said. His words annoyed her.
“Well-said,” Bamma garu said. Her comment went unnoticed.
Siva Rao swallowed the wad of food in his mouth, took a sip of water, and said, “That is a great idea. Yes, Paramesam, send her with me. She can stay at our place and attend college.”
“This is funny for you?” Paramesam said with knotted eyebrows.
“No, Anna garu, you are kind, but you don’t have to take on this responsibility. It is not appropriate for us either to let you do so,” Kamakshi echoed her husband’s opinion.
Siva Rao would not hear any of those objections. “Bhanu may be young but has said the right thing. In fact, it should have occurred to me. Please, send her with me. My wife and I have been dreaming for a girl, but that never happened. Geetha could fulfill our wish; she is like the Goddess Balathripura Sundari[3]Young girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty..”
“Enough chitchat. Come on, let’s move,” Paramesam said, getting up to wash his hand.
Kamakshi was in a dilemma. She was not too excited about sending her daughter to someone’s home but the thought that she could continue her studies was tempting.
Paramesam was feeling down by the minute for the situation he was in.
Bhanumurthy was aghast. He did not expect his casual comment to take such an unexpected turn.
“Ridiculous, if you ask me,” Bamma garu said.
Geetha was trying to imagine how her life amid six boys would be like.
Paramesam fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed. Next morning, Geetha left for Hindi class by the time he woke up. Bhanumurthy left for work.
Paramesam freshened, ate breakfast and was on his way out. Siva Rao said, “Time for work already?”
“Um, what can I say. For you, the day broke now. I have to go. You will stay until I return, right?” Paramesam replied in a lighter vein.
“Of course, I will. I can’t whisk away Geetha without your blessings,” Siva Rao replied.
Paramesam pulled his foot back, turned around, and said, “I did not think you meant it seriously.”
“Of course, I meant it. I said it yesterday and I am saying it again now in all earnestness. Your vadina (Siva’s wife) would be thrilled to have a girl in our home.”
“Well, I have to ask Kamakshi what her thoughts are on the subject.”
“Of course, please, ask her. You can send her with me only if it is acceptable to both of you. The women’s college in Guntur is a well-established institution. Let me add, you keep looking for a suitable match. I’ll also keep an eye on it. In the meantime, let her study.”
Paramesam nodded, and left.
Siva Rao turned around to go to his room; Kamakshi was standing in the doorway, leaning on the door-frame.
“Like I said yesterday, it is not your responsibility, Anna garu; it would be a big task for both you and vadina garu. There is a college here too, you know,” said Kamakshi.
She, like any savvy mother, was thinking of the six boys at their home.
“Oh, no, Chellemma, never think like that. We two have always been wanting a girl, you know. And, Geetha is not a baby; we don’t have to worry about fixing her hair, dressing her up, or tucking in bed. She is old enough to take care of herself. I am sure it will be a great experience for her, too,” he said fondly.
“She is very naive, believes everything white is milk[4]A proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.. Vadina garu cannot be everywhere, watching her all the time, I am afraid.”
“I understand your concern. I promise, we will take very good care of your daughter. Anyway, you think about it and let me know. Send her with me only if you are comfortable with it,” Siva Rao said, genuinely
“Oh, don’t say that. Of course, we are have full faith in you two,” said Kamakshi quickly.
Geetha returned from Hindi class.
“Would you like to stay at Siva Mamayya’s home and go to college?” Kamakshi asked her.
Geetha was grappling with this question ever since the subject had come up. Several issues beset her and rendered her restless. With her mother’s question, her heart pounded twice as fast. She even wished for a second that this had not happened.
“Why go there? Don’t we have a women’s college here?” Geetha said.
“What kind of question is that? You are talking as if they are strangers. You know that our two families have been close friends for three generations. Your father and Anna are like brothers. Both of them are thrilled to have you in their home. You know she prayed for a girl during every pregnancy. Maybe God planned to fulfill their wish in this manner. Anyway, it is only for four years; it will pass in no time,” Kamakshi offered as many reasons as she could.
Regardless, both of them knew that was not the whole truth; but, neither of them was prepared to accept the bitter truth.
Siva Rao stayed for the night, and was ready to leave the following morning.
As Geetha was packing her suitcase, Chitti started crying; he wanted to go with her. She gave him a half-rupee and comforted him. She assured him that she would be back soon.
Paramesam pulled Siva to a side, and said, “I can never repay your debt, Siva,” with tearful eyes.
“Sh, sh, don’t say that. Geetha means as much to me as to you,” Siva Rao said, patting on his shoulder gently.
Paramesam approached Geetha, told her to study well, to be careful, and not to hesitate to ask Mamayya or Attayya[5]Attayya, Atta: Aunt. whatever she wanted or needed. He also assured her that Siva was like a father and his wife, Kanakamma, was like a mother to her; and, either he or Bhanu would visit her as much as possible.
Geetha kept nodding, for she could not speak; she was overwhelmed. As the car started, she could not control herself anymore; she broke into sobs.
Bhanu gently stroked her head, and said, “Don’t be sad. Everything will be alright. Call me anytime you would like to talk. It is only an hour and a half trip, right? You can come on weekends. Be a good girl, study well, okay?” He shoved a five-rupee bill into Geetha’s palm lovingly.
“What for?” Geetha said, holding the bill tightly in her fist. Her voice sounded hoarse.
“Just, keep it.”
“You all, don’t worry about her. We will take good care of her,” Siva Rao assured them one more time from the moving car.


(June 3, 2022)


1 Anna – Older brother.
2 Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related.
3 Young girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty.
4 A proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.
5 Attayya, Atta: Aunt.

Chataka Birds part 3


Two days back, Radha called her to inquire how she was doing. Geetha said she was doing well softly, sounding lifeless. Radha understood her predicament; she knew it only too well. Almost all Telugu women went through that downtime in the first few months of their arrival in America.
She said, ”How is your family at home? Have you talked to them?”
“No, no phone in our house, you know. I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I wrote to my mother.”
“That’s good. We all had been through that feeling, Geetha. It takes time to get used to it.”
“I hope so,” Geetha sighed.
“Look at it this way,” Radha said, trying to cheer her up, “You’ve said you were not very close to your brothers; you were arguing all the time. Now you don’t have those arguments.”
Geetha laughed, ”Well, yes. Still it is not the same. I still miss them, actually missing them more now.”
Radha too laughed and agreed that it was not the same. Also told Geetha it had been like that for her too, at first.
After the chat, Geetha’s spirits hit a new low. How on earth did this happen? I took one big leap in a split second, like I did not know it was a lifetime decision, she thought with awe. Her entire life rolled out in her mind like an old movie; it was like someone else’s story.
A decade and a half had passed since.

The Ramanatha Swami High School had published the final exam results. Students gathered in the schoolyard anxiously, looking for their names on the list posted on the big board. Those, who had passed the exam, were elated; they walked around like they had grown two inches taller. The students, whose names were not on the list, were eager to leave the place. The successful students were trying to stop them and speak some encouraging, deriding, or reassuring words to the failed folks: I am sure there will be a supplementary list; What’s the big deal; You can try again; There must be some mistake; and so on.
Some of them talked about their future plans: I will take Biology major; I want to go to law school; I don’t think my father lets me continue; I will probably learn to typewrite…
“I will go to America,” Ranga Rao said.
Several students quickly gathered around him.
“What do you do there?”
“I don’t know. I just want to go to America. That’s all I know for now.”
“Yes, yes. I’ve seen him buying a ticket at the train station yesterday,” somebody said, mockingly. Two students laughed. Four students snickered. Two students, standing next to Ranga Rao, took him seriously.
The entire atmosphere was boisterous with various emotions: happy, sad, disappointed, desperate; Aspirations, hopes, fears, and tears.
Geetha stood a few feet away from them, and watched the other students with a feeling of inexplicable apprehensiveness.
“What do you think you will do?” her friend Satyam asked her.
“Um. I don’t know.”
“Yes. For girls like us, no plan. Things just happen,” Satyam said inanely.
“You too think so?”
“Well, you know. My two brothers are in college, and two sisters are sitting there, waiting the wedding day. I know father can’t pay for my education.”
“I just don’t know what I want to do.”
Satyam sighed. “We’ll see. I have to go,” she said.
Both left for their respective homes.
Geetha’s father was on the porch, reading newspaper. He said, “Passed?”
She nodded in assent and went in.
“Glad it is done,” said her mother.
Geetha went into her room and stood in front of her bookshelf. Those books meant a lot up until last night, but now meant nothing. She sighed and turned around.
Her little brother, Chitti, was standing behind her, “You said you’d give me a quarter of a rupee, if you passed the exam.”
“When did I say that?”
“The other day when I was playing drum, you said you’d give me a quarter, if I stopped playing the drum and let you study.”
“Okay. I’ll give you later.”
Mother called her from the kitchen, “Geetha, go to Nagamma Atta’s [1]Atta: Aunt home, get some curry leaves. I am making pulihora.”
Geetha went to neighbor Nagamma Atta’s home. Nagamma Atta was making cotton wicks for her daily worship as Geetha walked in.
“Done with high school?” she asked.
“Yes Atta, passed. Amma sent me here to get curry leaves from your tree.”
“Sure, take them. What is the rush? Come here, sit down.”
“Amma is waiting for the curry leaves. I have better go.”
“Ah, okay, go. You will be in college soon, I guess.”
“I don’t know.”
“Why? Did your mother say no need for further studies?”
“No, she did not say anything.”
“No, Atta, nobody said anything. I have to go.”
“Well then, you tell them that you want to go to college. Stop being so naive. Times have changed. No boy would come forward to marry you without a college degree, at least.”
“I have to go,” Geetha said, and left.

Geetha knew there was would be some discussion at home sooner or later. That moment had come soon enough. At dinner that night, mother Kamakshi brought it up.
“Probably, college costs a lot of money,” Kamakshi said in a soft voice, while serving curry. She would like Geetha to go to college very much.
“I guess,” said father Paramesam, indicating it was on his mind too.
“Aren’t there scholarships or something like that?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, no, Vadina! [2]Vadina: Older brother’s wife. That is only for the rich and the mighty, not for folks like us,” Bhanumurthy, Paramesam’s younger brother, said, sarcastically.
Kamakshi was annoyed but kept quiet.
“Why does she need a college degree, anyway? All she is going to do is cook, clean and take care of the kids, right?” he added.
“You said it right, my boy! I think so, too,” said Bamma [3]Bamma: Grandmother garu from the hallway, where she was lying on the jute-rope cot and listening to the conversation.
Kamakshi did not say what was on her mind for fear of offending the woman one generation senior to her. She sighed, and went in to bring the yogurt.
Geetha sat there with her eyes glued to the food on her plate, and mixing the rice and curry clumsily. Father, Mother, Babayi and Bamma garu–they all were talking about her future. She was listening; it felt like it was not about her but somebody else.
The following Sunday, Geetha went to Saroja’s home for a party. It was late in the evening by the time she returned.
“How was the party?” Kamakshi asked. She knew what kind of questions she might have faced, and how painful it could be.
“Okay,” said Geetha, and went into the adjoining room to change.
After they all ate supper, Paramesam settled in the reclining chair on the porch with the newspaper.
Geetha spread the mats and set the pillows in the adjoining room. Usually, that room served as a chat room for the adults to discuss the day’s events, and as a study room for the kids to do their homework. On that day also, as usual, they all gathered there and started chatting.
“So,” said Bhanumurthy, lying on the mat on his stomach, and resting his elbows on the pillow, folded, under his chin.
“How many times have I told you not to fold the pillow like that. Use two pillows if one is not enough,” Kamakshi said.
Bhanumurthy, ignored her chiding, and continued as usual, “So, what is Saroja going to do?”
“She says she will study medicine,” Geetha replied.
“Ha ha. Is she that smart?” Bhanumurthy laughed. He got through high school with bare minimum marks, took the polytechnic course, and took a job as a telephone operator.
That hurt Geetha. She did not like Babayi[4]Babayi: Father’s younger brother. dismissing her friend’s aspirations in one curt sentence. “Saroja has gotten good marks, as always,” she said with knotted eye-brows.
Kamakshi did not like it either. “Who are we to tell how smart she is?” she retorted edgily. She wanted her daughter to go to college, very much. In her younger days, she had hoped to go to college, but that did not happen. Now she would love to have her daughter a college degree.
“Hindi class is good,” Bamma said from the hallway on the jute-rope cot, not that her suggestion mattered. She, however, considered herself part of the family since she was living under their roof; and, offered her advice, asked or not.
Geetha picked up the courage to say, “I want to go to college.”
“Think about it, college education does not come easy. It takes four years to obtain the degree. Your father retires by then,” Bhanumurthy said.
Geetha pretended not to hear his words, and said, “A degree in Hindi takes time, too.”
“It may take time, but not that expensive,” Bhanumurthy said. He was surprised that Geetha spoke. He wondered if that came from attending the party at Saroja’s home; who could have said what to her?
Kamakshi’s face fell, but nobody noticed it. “It would be nice if she could get a bachelor’s degree, at least,” she said.
Paramesam would like it too; but, he had overwhelming responsibilities. He was aware that it was beyond his means.
Bhanumurthy, however, did not let go of it. “What do you mean by ‘nice’, Vadina, tell me; enlighten me,” he said.
Paramesam came into the room, yawned, and said, “That’s enough. It is getting late. We need to wake up early. Go to bed.”
The discussion ended, leaving her future hanging in the balance.

Some of them had to find other venues. Saroja signed up for the Biology course, but Sambu could not, although he had received higher marks in high school. Lakshmi, Sundari, John Gopal, Ansari Ali, and others went their separate ways.
Geetha signed up for the Hindi class. She could not help but think of her classmates. Some of them would graduate from college and go for further studies. They just happened to be in a better position socially, and so, got better opportunities. She knew that some of them “managed” to pass the tests. She had gotten good marks, fared better than some of them; yet she could not go to college. She could not help but think that she would remain “a girl without a college degree” for the rest of her life.
Kamakshi’s younger brother, Ramana, was in America. He wrote that he was happy that Geetha had passed the high school exam, and would be happy to help her get admission in a local college. Kamakshi it twice and left it on the coffee table.
Geetha returned from her HIndi class.
“Did you write to him?” mother asked.
Geetha was confused. “Writing what? To whom?” she asked.
“To Ramana Mamayya[5]Mamayya: Maternal uncle., about passing the exam.”
“I did. So?” Geetha asked.
Kamakshi threw a scathing look at her and went into the kitchen.
“Yes, go, pack and leave right now. He has gotten a white girl; he will find a white boy for you too,” Bamma said, expressing her displeasure.
Ramana had left for America when he was 22, completed his studies, got a job, got citizenship, and settled in the U.S. He married his colleague, a white woman. That was a sore point for Bamma ever since.
Kamakshi was adding stirring the eggplant curry on the stove in the kitchen. Bamma’s comment ticked her off. She came into the hallway and said, “He married a white girl, so what? Our girl passed the exam. She was happy. So, she dropped a line to her uncle. He too was happy about it. What has one got to do with the other? It is not like we are taking him upon his offer, anyway.
“Let’s not forget how we treated him. He came home, after 12 years away from home, and how did we treat him? He is my only brother. You did not take into consideration even that. You insisted he must not enter the kitchen because he was married to a white girl. We should be happy that he offered to help us, despite such humiliation.” She struggled to stay calm while replying to Bamma.
“What did I say? Did I say anything that is not true, or, inappropriate?” Bamma fired back.
Geetha stood there watching this farce. She thought for a second about what would have happened if Babayi was there; then it occurred to her that Babayi would be home soon, and this bickering would continue.
She was right. Babayi started out the squabble again, after he returned from work. He raised several questions, starting with, “Where did she get the money to buy the aerogram,” to “Where did she get the idea of going to America.”
The truth was, she had heard about it at the party at Saroja’s house. Ranga Rao mentioned, casually, that it would be easier to go to America, if one had a relative or friends in America. Geetha thought about Ramana Mamayya.
Not that it had become an obsession with her, but when she saw some space on the aerogram her mother had given her to write Ramana’s address, and mail it. She scribbled a line about her passing the exam, and mailed it. It was all casual, no expectation of opportunities or, possibilities.
Bhanumurthy would not let go of it, so easily, though. “So, that is it, Vadina? I must give it to you. You’ve done a wonderful job of training her,” he said.
“Aha, that is my training? My training adds up to what, while you all are here to protect her?,” she replied edgily.
“So be it. Okay, Geethamma, please, don’t forget this poor, no good Babayi, please. Maybe, you can find a small job for me, too,” Bhanumurthy continued his brassy remarks.
Geetha felt terrible. She regretted her action; Oh, God, what have I done, she thought.
“Who knows what is in store, Bhanu! As they say, the barren land you have ridiculed could come to fruition some day[6]navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.,” Kamakshi said, and left the room.

Paramesam’s father had enjoyed a fairly good life. They had enough to run the family, and help a couple of others as well. In course of time, however, the property had been used up for children’s education, weddings, etc.
Paramesam inherited a small single family home, and got a job as a teacher at a local middle school. That was about it. He had three sons and one daughter. First son finished college, got married, and moved to the big city. The second son was in the second year of college. Now Geetha was finished with high school, and the question of her studies was hanging in balance. The last child, Chitti was in the 4th grade.
Paramesam’s younger brother, Bhanumurthy, completed high school, and joined a telephone company as a telephone operator in the same town and moved in with them about 5 years back. His stay with them was helpful, financially; his thoughtless comments and ideas were annoying to both Kamakshi and Geetha. Basically, he had no college education, and so he saw no reason why Geetha should get a degree. Bamma garu was one more living soul in that household. She was Paramesam’s mother’s younger sister. She had a son, who refused to take care of her. Since she had no other place to go, Paramesam’s mother took her into her home.

Siva Rao was a childhood friend of Paramesam. They both had tea in the same tea stall, attended the same school, learned to smoke cigarettes and play cards from the same classmates, got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. They received medications and reprimands from the same doctor. They were not born to the same parents, but grew up practically like brothers. After they were done with schooling, each settled in life in their own ways. Siva Rao married his mother’s brother’s daughter[7]Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families. and settled in Guntur, taking care of his father-in-law’s business. Paramesam married the girl Kamakshi, his parents picked for him, and settled as a school teacher in Vijayawada. Both got busy with their own lives. There was no communication between the two families for a while.
One fine morning, Siva Rao came to visit Paramesam’s family.
Kamakshi welcomed him heartily, gave him a glass of water, and inquired about his family in Guntur.
“Haven’t seen you in a long time. I thought you’ve forgotten us,” said Bamma garu said, expressing mild displeasure.
Siva Rao sat in the reclining chair on the porch, sipping water.
“Oh, no, Bamma garu, my business is like that, hardly any time to do anything. We can’t trust anybody nowadays, can’t let the guards down, not even for a second. It’s killing me, no time even to die. If the Lord Yama[ God of Death. ] comes to take me away, I would have to tell him, not now, come later,” he said to her. Then he turned to Kamakshi, “They are doing well, Chellemma![8]Chellamma: Younger sister. Your vadina has some minor complaints like backache, but nothing serious.”
“Don’t your sons help?” Bamma garu asked.
“No, Bamma garu, too young to get into business.”
“So, what is new, Anna[9]Anna: Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he smiled and said, “I have come to invite you all to my son’s wedding. It is set to be performed on June 25th.”
Geetha returned from her Hindi class, and stood on the last step to the porch, listening to their conversation. She tried to imagine a young man who was too young to take care of business but old enough to get married.


May 27, 2022)


1 Atta: Aunt
2 Vadina: Older brother’s wife.
3 Bamma: Grandmother
4 Babayi: Father’s younger brother.
5 Mamayya: Maternal uncle.
6 navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.
7 Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families.
8 Chellamma: Younger sister.
9 Anna: Older brother.

Chataka Birds Part 2

(Part 1) here

Part 2

Geetha opened her eyes and saw Hari sitting on the edge of her bed with a big smile.
She felt relieved for the first time since she had set foot in New York.
Hari took her hand and stroked gently, “How was the trip? Who put you on the plane in Mumbai airport? No problems anywhere? Did you get through Customs without hassle?”
Geetha laughed. “You have so many questions. If I keep answering all your questions, I won’t be getting any sleep for a week, at least.”
“Well, did I get you here in such a hurry so you can sleep endlessly?” he squinted his eyes and pouted.
“Hee hee,” Geetha giggled.
Then she went into the bathroom, freshened up and returned to the living room. Hari set the breakfast and coffee on the dining table. He said Peter and Susan had left for work.
“Oh, I am sorry. I should have woken early to take leave of them.”
“Ah, don’t you worry about it. That is the way it is around here. Everybody has to go about their business, or else, nothing gets done.”
In the airport, Hari led her to a lounge, told her to wait there, and went to check in. She was watching people rush every which way. Suddenly, a huge wave of loneliness overcame her amid this crowd of strangers; she felt exhausted and clueless.
Hari returned with two cups of coffee. She looked at him tenderly. In this whole wide world, Hari was the only friend she had, and that thought was comforting.
Hari settled next to her, and handed her the coffee. He put his arm around her shoulder, and stroked her gently. He understood her at that moment. “I am here for you,” his eyes told her.
Geetha reached her final destination. As she got out of the car, Hari pointed to one of the doors of a 2-storey building and said, “There, that is our heavenly abode.”
She could not figure out which door he was pointing to. She nodded and followed him. A cardboard sign of “welcome” on the door welcomed her. She stood behind him nervously.
Hari opened the door to their apartment and let her in. He showed her the rooms–the living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room–all in one sweep, standing right where he was.
Geetha nodded, “Okay, got it.”
Everything was beautiful–a flower vase on the dining table, curtains matching the sofa set, kitchen looking like a showroom, everything in its place, a place for everything.
“What do you think?” Hari asked.
“Nice,” she replied.
Something was missing. There was no feeling of joining the in-law’s family to spend the rest of her life with them. It was more like vacationing in some unknown city for a few days!
That building had been the home of one huge family for two previous generations. The current owner converted it into a 4-unit complex by making a few changes like installing stoves in the bathrooms, and toilet seats in the bedrooms.
“Like it?” asked Hari.
She nodded quietly. She was still in a daze. Her brain was still in a silent mode. Nothing was penetrating her head. The tiny cells, where thoughts are generated, were filled with vague shades. How else anybody, thrown from one end of the globe to the other end in 36 hours would feel? There were two oceans and 10,000 miles of distance between the bed she had slept in yesterday and the bed she was going to sleep in today! Faces she had never seen, things she had never seen, and the language never heard anywhere! Her head reeled.
The phone rang.
Hari picked up the phone. It was from an old friend, Bhagyam. She had been in town for over ten years. She was the best friend and mentor for local Telugu families. She called to ask if the new bride, Geetha, had arrived safely, was the journey comfortable, and was there anything she could do for them.
Geetha lay back in the sofa, trying to listen to the conversation and wondering what was that about.
Hari was on the phone for the next hour and a half. As far as she could understand, most of the calls were to inquire about her and her journey. Rest of them seemed to be talking about politics; Nixon resigned, and then what? What would Ford do? Geetha dozed off.
Hari got off the phone at last, and said to her, “You are tired. Come on, have a bite and go to bed.”
Geetha got up, walked to the dining table, “You cooked?”
“Why? You think I can’t cook?”
“I don’t know. My friend Satyam used to say that Indian men, after a year or so in America, would rush back to India and get married to solve the cooking problem only.”
Hari burst into a big laugh. “Not bad, not bad at all. You are not as naive as I thought.”
Geetha too smiled, squinting playfully, and sticking out her tongue.
Hari kept asking, “how is this item?”, “how is that item,” as she ate.
Geetha kept saying, “good”, “nice”, tasty”, “what’s this? Spinach? Looks like Poi.”
Hari was excited; he was delighted beyond words. Just in a few hours, Geetha had changed tremendously. The future would be pure gold!
“It’s okay. Everything will be fine. You’ll get used to these things,” his eyes assured her.
It was nice for her too. She felt good. In that moment, he did not look like the NRI, who had appeared from nowhere, married her, and left in a hurry, but like a boon companion from previous life. It was gratifying.
He left for work.
She sat in the sofa, pondering over the day’s events. Hari said something about jet lag; the body reached America, but the heart was still in the Telugu land.
Next morning by the time she woke up, Hari made coffee.
“I didn’t think that life in America would be this charming,” she said, teasingly.
“You’ve seen nothing yet,” he said, smiling. The phone rang.
“Phone calls this early? I thought people in America don’t call this early.”
“Americans don’t, but for our people, there is no such thing as no good time. Phone calls start with the cock’s crowing,” he said, picking up the phone.
That was true. One of his friends, Madhav, called to ask if he and his wife, Radha, could stop by to say hello to Geetha briefly.
Hari told them to come, that’s fine, hung up, and conveyed the message to Geetha.
“Guests already? I still feel like I have not reached America yet,” Geetha said.
“What guests? Madhav is no guest. We two went to the same school and got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. We are like brothers. Don’t worry. You don’t have to change sari or anything. They want to see you, that’s all. Here we all feel lost, ache for a Telugu face. Any new person is quite refreshing to us. You will understand soon enough. How can I say no, when he and his wife are so anxious to meet you?”
Geetha went into the other room, pulled out a sari and a blouse, and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
She returned to the living room and greeted Radha and Madhav.
“Where are the kids?” Hari asked. The couple had two kids, eight and ten.
“Our neighbors took them to the County Fair along with their kids. They will be back by noon. We thought of making the best of the free time this way,” Madhav said, explaining away their early morning visit.
Hari asked if they had breakfast.
Yes, they had breakfast, they just stopped by to greet Geetha briefly. “We will come some other time,” he added.
That some other time happened soon. The following Sunday Hari received a phone call from an old friend, Sumati. She and another friend, Tesh came. Tesh had no car and so he tagged along with Sumati. Within the next one hour, a few other friends, Pani, Vishu and Gnanesh came. All of them were bachelors.
This get together was unplanned and unexpected, and totally different from what Geetha had learned from her friends in India. For Hari, it was an ordinary event, nothing unusual, she understood.
Geetha made coffee. Hari went into the kitchen and returned with a plate full o f the sweets and savories, Geetha brought from India. He also brought cookies and crackers on another plate.
Pani took a cookie, that was his favorite, he said.
“Hey! How can you, with these authentic Pullareddy sweets from hometown? ” Gnanesh said.
“Come on, It is not a contest. I like them all. Each has its own taste. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. That’s all,” Viswam tried to appease him.
They all got into heated discussions on several topics. Excitement was in the air.
The clock chimed 12:30. “Okay, let’s go. I am sure Geetha garu likes to rest,” Sumati said.
“No, no. It’s lunchtime. Eat something and leave,” Hari said.
His friends protested, as is usual.
“Geetha garu needs rest.”
“We will come some other time.”
“We came just to see Geetha garu, say hello and leave.”
“No, no, we did not expect to eat lunch here.”
“Promise, some other time.”
Hari dismissed their protests, waving his hand. “Come on, I insist. There is plenty of food. Actually, I’ve got everything ready for you.”
Geetha was amused. She did not expect this but, apparently, some customs die hard. Indians are Indians anywhere. Unannounced visits and expected hosting!
“I still think it is not right to bother Geetha garu,” Sumati said.
“Don’t you worry, Sumati. I am not going to put your kid sister to work. I will make lunch myself,” Hari said.
“Kid sister”! It was so Indian, Geetha noticed.
Sumati laughed. “Ha, ha. We all have tasted your cooking. I will fix something. You stay out of the kitchen, that is a big help.”
Tesh followed Sumati into the kitchen. Pani and Gnanesh joined them. Geetha also went into the kitchen.
Sumati turned on the stove and started with making rice for puihora[1] Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice. . In another pan on another burner, and added two tea spoons of veggie oil, waited for a couple of minutes for the oil to heat, and threw in some mustard seeds, urad dal, and a few red pepper pods. While the mustard seeds popped, she took out two packets of cut beans and threw them into the pan. The pan made a big hissing noise and subsided.
Geetha was watching them with amazement.
While beans were cooking, Sumati took an potato and started slicing for bajji[2] Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings..
“I will cut it,” Geetha said, taking a step toward Sumati. She feeling awkward to stand there, doing nothing.
“Don’t worry, I got it. You are still a new bride. We don’t let new brides work the first day,” Sumati said, playfully.
“I can’t just stand here doing nothing. After all, this is my house. I am supposed to be doing the cooking.”
“Ah, no, Geetha garu, for today we are the hosts here. Starting tomorrow, the kitchen is all yours. We will not enter the kitchen unless you beg us to.”
“To be frank, I am not much of a cook.”
“None of was at first. But, after a couple of months, everybody becomes a master chef.”
Geetha laughed.
Lunch was ready. Beans curry, Pulihora, Bajji.
As they were eating, Geetha made coffee.
“I haven’t had this good coffee since I left India. Geetha garu, Namaste to you,” Gnanesh said.
“You too can go home, get married, and bring the bride. You can have great coffee everyday,” Sumati teased him.
“Well, what if I don’t get a wife who can make coffee like Geetha garu. I would be a big loser on both counts.”
“You can ask her to make coffee when go to her home to meet her and her parents.”
“That is probably not a great option,” Gnanesh said.
Geetha was confused. How could they talk so lightly about such a grave subject, the institution of marriage?
“What is he talking about?” she asked Sumati, feeling there might more to it than his marriage or good coffee.
Sumati replied, “He has made a project of it. once a month, he sits down and make a list of things he wants in a girl: Fair skin, correct height, best features, etc. And then qualifications: A physician is good for taking care of kids, an economic major can take care of investments, and a home economics major, of course, will satisfy his taste buds. These priorities change each month, depending on the dominant zodiac sign on any given day.”
“If you ask me, he really is not ready for marriage. All that talk is just past-time for him, and entertainment for us. That’s why we tease him.”
All the fun and frolic were interesting to Geetha. Strange but not unusual, come to think of it. She felt right at home in their presence. She said so too.
“Back home, they told me Indians in America would behave very differently. You all are soooo Indian, I feel like I have not left home at all.”
“It didn’t sound like nothing. Am I being naive?”
“I am not saying you are naive.”
“Then what?”
“Do you remember the proverb, ‘you don’t test each grain of rice to see if the entire pot is cooked’?[ annam antaa patti choodakkarledu. You don’t check each grain to know the entire pot of rice is cooked. ] That does not apply to humans. As far as I could see, humans come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes, everywhere. One wave does not make the ocean. One instance is not enough to understand the nature of anyone person, or a handful of people, for that matter.”
Geetha did not reply. Suddenly, she thought of Susan and Peter. She had told them the same thing, almost!
“I am just saying humans are very complex creatures. Just take it in stride.”
“Okay,” Geetha nodded.
“Never mind all this nonsense. You are tired. Go, get some rest,” suggested Gnanesh.
“Yes, you need to rest,” Viswam said.
Geetha said, “I am not tired. It’s okay,” feeling shyly.
“Come on. No formalities with us over here. We all know how it feels like after such a long journey. We are not going to find fault with you. Go, get some rest,” Pani insisted.
Hari also assured her that nobody blames her as lacking in manners.
Geetha took leave of them and retired.
Geetha was getting used to the new environment, but it was not getting any easier. Every little thing was a new lesson for her. Cold cereal for breakfast, air-tight rooms, very little semblance of any human to be seen anywhere; and Hari’s constant warnings, “don’t go out,” “don’t open the door,” “keep the doors locked,” etc. were depressing her. She was feeling suffocated. Mother, father, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, even the maid, and the vegetable vendors were coming to her mind constantly. That was her life. The thought of loneliness, like a huge wave, rose and engulfed her.
She recalled the brief conversation she had had with Radha two days back.

(May 20, 2022)


1 Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice.
2 Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings.

Chataka Birds (Novel)

Chataka Birds
By Nidadavolu Malathi

[A first generation Indian woman’s immigrant experience and reconciling cultural conflicts]

Chataka Bird

I moved to America in 1973 from Andhra Pradesh, India. It took me a decade to get over the culture shock I had experienced. That was the starting point for this novel.
I worked on this novel with three basic premises:
1. Ill-conceived and/or unsubstantiated notions are prevalent in both cultures, about Americans in India and about Indians in America.
2. Basic human values, hopes, fears, aspirations, and primary needs such as food, shelter and human relationships, are the same across all cultures. The difference is in the manner in which each culture addresses those characteristics.
3. Those characteristics originate from environment, population, and available resources.
Also, I strongly believe that a good read helps the non-native reader to transpose into the story’s nuance. If it does not do so, it has failed its function, in my opinion.
4.Basically, this novel attempts to depict how immigrants resolve the cultural conflicts, and in the process, create their own cultural environment.
I began writing this novel in my mother tongue, Telugu, in 1984, and completed it in 2004. It was serialized on www.APWeekly.com.
Currently, the novel is being serialized on www.neccheli.com. I have made extensive revisions in this version in 2021.
In this English version, once again, I have made significant changes, with the target audience, non-native speakers, in mind.
The title, Chataka refers to a mythological bird, supposed to be flying around in the sky, and awaiting, with its beaks turned upwards, the fresh raindrops from the sky for its food. According to the legend, the bird would not accept water from any other source except the fresh raindrops from the sky, and only in a specific season.
I used the metaphor to describe Indian immigrants in America in pursuit of happiness and material comforts. The comparison, however, ends there. The culture shock emanating from the cultural conflicts they face is a lot harsher and harder to handle.
I am thankful to my good friend and author, Judith Ann Adrian, https://judithadrian.com/ for her valuable suggestions.
I am thankful to my Facebook friends, Rama Neelakantham and Suman Latha Rudravajhala for providing information about Chataka bird.
Also, I must mention a comment I had received long time ago, when I had submitted my translation of a story to an American Journal. The editor wrote to me that footnotes were just right; not too many, not too few. To that end, the footnotes are meant not to be elaborate explanations, but only helpful in understanding the context in this story.

Read, enjoy, comment, if you please. Thanks.

Nidadavolu Malathi
May 13, 2022

The Chataka Birds
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