Tag Archives: Lata

Lata. Kites and Water Bubbles

  It was close to late evening.

The city is stretching like a prostitute after a hex of demonic sex. All the cities are alike, when it comes to sex life. The difference lies only in the way women are destined to lead their lives.

In the city of Vijayawada, you will find a type of housing, unique to the city life; and then, there are also the policemen. One policeman stood in front of one such house and howled. One of the window panels opened slightly and a face peeked through. The policeman looked at her, with a kind of impish looks. She gestured back acknowledging his looks.

“Why are you scared of policemen? Ha? Aren’t they men like any other?” commented one woman.

This is our great India. In this country, man puts a woman’s honor on a pedestal and then sells it for a nickel in a heartbeat, twirling his moustache smugly, blowing hot and cold in the same breath. No qualms, none whatsoever.

The woman’s name is Rajamma. She has a husband. He pays professional tax, under the pretext of running a business, selling soft drinks, that is. She has two daughters, four nieces, and three more of her sister’s daughters [1] Some of them lost their mothers; and Rajamma took them, under her wing. As for the others, they lost their fathers, and Rajamma’s husband is taking care of them. Rajamma and nine female gems of our great India live under that roof.

Time is five in the evening. Signs of activity just started stirring up. All the other nine women, not counting Rajamma, woke up from their sleep.

“Hey! Did you see the time? Come on, get up!” Rajamma roared like a lion. All the nine women woke up as if yanked out of their beds. She alerted them one more time to get up and get ready and went into the kitchen.

The aroma of onion and dal soup spread around, tantalizingly. “Wow, there is a fine smell,” Ratti[2] said with a big grin. Currently, she is known as Ratnamanjiram.

“I am not hungry. Don’t feel like doing anything but Attamma[3] will get on our case. We might as well get up and get to work,” said Kantham.

“What can she do, kill us? What is her problem anyways? Her business goes to dogs but for us. She will hit the streets for spare change,” Sita said, sneering.

Let’s not mistake this Sita for the woman Valmiki depicted in Ramayana[4]. One thing is sure though. This Sita plays lover for all the ten heads of Ravana.

“Hey, Savittiri[5], Did you go to the movies last night? How much did you make?’’ Damayanti asked, with a grain of salt.

Before Savitri (Savittiri) could respond, Arundhati replied, “I am sure she made good. She is still green. No matter however you see it, I am sure she snatched five rupees at the least.”

“Five rupees? My foot! Some idiot near Rama talkies invited me to his room, a filthy rat hole, I tell you! Such a long walk. The walk alone was enough to kill me. Three men were waiting in the room, ghosh, huge, whopping bulls! They sucked the life out of me all night and then shoved into my fist a measly three rupees. I tried to reason with them that that was not fair. They growled and booted me. What can I do? I was three against one. I was already feeling worn out like a leaf for all the work they have done on me. I could barely bring myself home. Chha! What a rotten life,” Savitri lamented, in disgust.

“Paltry three rupees after all that tough grind. And two of those three rupees, two would go to attamma (Rajamma) leaving barely one rupee for you. Things were so much better in the past when we went to their room. We were making ten rupees at the least.”

“Well, there weren’t this many brothel houses then. There were only one or two per city in those days. Now we have two houses per street. Now they can get women, dime a dozen and that too, from higher classes. How could you expect anything more?’’

“Never mind. Attamma is howling. Come on, move,” Subbulu said and started rubbing her face, brusquely with a cheap soap. They finished bathing and went to the other room where Rajamma was waiting for them. Rajamma opened the wooden bureau in the corner and pulled out sarees for them. The sarees were made of cheap silk, the kind you could buy at the rate of a yard per rupee and a quarter. They were nearly transparent.

The nine women put on those cheap sarees, dabbed some kind of cheap make up on their faces, half an inch thick, and tucked in jasmine flowers in their hairdo. In all, they were spreading a revolting smell  with their cheap make up and sweat.

It was getting close to six in the evening.

The women went into the kitchen, picked up the aluminum plates from the corner and sat down to eat. Rajamma served a scoop of rice, and soup into their plates. None of them could relish the food. They were trying to nibble and swallow. Only Sita, unlike others, was gobbling it up. Sita was the youngest of them all, about 16 years old, still new, was looking fresh. Arundhati felt jealous watching her enjoying the food.

“Eat it, you might as well enjoy while you can. You might even get lucky and see two movies today,” Arundhati commented, with a pale grin.

“Attamma, let me have a piece of pickle, please,” Sita asked.

“What? You want pickles? I can’t serve you pickles and ignore others, can I? Favoritism is not my style, you know,” Rajamma bawled.

“Well then, give them too,” Sita said, sternly. she is the only one among them to speak her mind.

Rajamma hit the roof. “Give them too? How? You think I’ve got a bundle, to fritter away?”

Sita turned to others, “Fritter away, her money? She is talking as if she is feeding us out of the goodness of her heart! Takes two thirds cut of what we make; and, did you hear what’s she saying?” and turned to Rajamma, and howled back, “Come on, let’s have pickles. No big loss to your stash.”

 That put Rajamma in her place. She shut her mouth, went in and brought out the pickles jar.

Sita spoke the truth. Rajamma takes two rupees per head, that is eighteen rupees per day, total. At that rate, her earnings amount to five hundred and forty rupees per month which is the same as Class I Officer’s paycheck.[6] In addition, she also collects a quarter of a rupee per saree per night; charges the male customers one half rupee per night; that adds up to a considerable amount, in all. Of course, Rajamma has expenses to take care of. Her son attends medical school in a nearby city. She sends him two hundred rupees per month. She pays one anna[7] to Rangaiah, her husband-cum-watchdog of her establishment for his tobacco rolls. She, also has to pay for renting babies from snake-catchers and the desperate mothers who would rent their children for petty cash.

There is no sign of life in any of their faces except Sita. Arundhati and Sita went to the same movie they had seen six times. Kantham and Subbulu were standing in the doorway wearing a silly grin on their faces. Anasuya, Ratnam, Sumitra, and Damayanti stayed home waiting for walk-in customers. They were chewing dried tobacco bits rolled in pan leaves.

“Sita! You’re good, you gave it to Attamma, good,” Sumitra commented thickly, with her mouth, full of pan leaf juice.

“Well! You know me. This Sita is a kshatriya[8] woman. Nobody can take me for a ride,” Sita said, proudly.

“Oh, boy! Aren’t we smug! If you think so highly of yourself, how come you ended up here?” Damayanti said, tauntingly.

“She is bluffing. Do you remember Rangaalu? Left us looking for a break in the movies. She used to say she was a brahmin. Whoever would believe all that gibberish?” Sumitra said.

Sita was irate at the insinuation. “I am not like you people. I don’t lie. I am truly a kshatriya woman. I don’t care whether you believe it or not,” she said.

“Come on, Sita. It is six months since you came here; never told us your full story. Come on. What is your story?” Damayanti asked her.

Sita told them her story, “In our village, ours was the biggest house. One day my grandma got sick and my family, I mean everybody except me, went to see her. One of my uncles from another village, on his way to my grandma’s place, came. I was alone and young, you know. I did not understand what he was doing to me. After about four months, somebody said I was pregnant. My father flayed me black and blue. I wanted to drown myself, went to the river and was standing on the shore. A man was standing under a tree nearby with his camera. He saw me, grabbed my arm quickly and stopped me. He suggested  that I go to the city with him. He promised to marry me.

  “What a jerk, that uncle of yours! What’s wrong with him anyways,” Sumitra said, annoyed.

Sita continued her narration. “Stupid life, it’s so hard to let go of. I followed him to the city. He rented a small house in Purnanandam neighborhood and kept me there. I had my baby in a government hospital.[9] They said that the baby was stillborn. To hell with it, I told myself. Hardly, three months passed, he started bringing other men to our house.”       

“What about marriage?” I asked him.

He laughed. “Some jerk made you pregnant and you’re asking me to marry you? Ha! What a nerve? You bitch! You had better listen to me or I’ll kick you out,” he said.

  I refused to consent to his demands. Then, two men pinned me down to the floor and the third had me. I spit on myself in disgust, pulled my hair, and cursed my life. The pain was killing me. I felt like I was run through a grinder. Next day, I went around looking for work; saw a road construction site and asked them for work. I was not used to that kind of hard labor, you know. By evening, I was exhausted, was almost dead. At the end of the day, they gave me ten annas.

  One day, supervisor came and grabbed me from behind. He said, “You, gorgeous, why do this beastly job?” Rogue! Can you imagine? You sweat all day like a donkey and you’d get ten annas, and then on top of it, this? I dragged myself home, and guess who was waiting for me at my door, the temple priest! He was after me for a while. He offered me 25 rupees. Who could’ve thought of that! You work all day and you get 10 annas. You let go of your body for ten minutes and you are in for a nifty twenty-five rupees! No way to make an honest rupee in this world, I am telling you. I gave myself in to the priest on that night.”

“Oh, my god! Twenty-five rupees for one night. Are you crazy? What did you come here for? You stupid,” Damayanti wailed.

“You don’t get it, do you? He gave me 25 rupees on the first night. The second day, the price went down, whush, just like that to five. I waited around for a couple of months. A cop squished me into dead meat all night and went way without paying a paisa. Another jerk came, forget he paying me, he snatched away the only rupee I had and took off. I couldn’t take it, not anymore. I decided to move on. That’s how I ended up here. Here, we have at least uncle Rangaiah to protect us from such a mayhem; and aunt Rajamma, to give us some food. Yeah, maybe it’s only soup, still it’s something. And I have you all like sisters if I feel like talking…” Sita, said.

Damayanti noticed somebody at the door and turned to Sumitra. “Look, there’s your Kavi garu[10], came for you. I saw his play the other day in the library. Ghosh, God bless his soul! such a touching piece. He attacked the prostitutes and the institution; he was so brutal I felt sick to the pit of my stomach; wanted to jump into the river Krishna and kill myself. The play was that powerful, you know!” Damayanti said. [11]

“Yeah! He spends one half hour with me blabbering all that funny lingo of love—“deream garal, moyinee” and such. He curls up by my side like a puppy, looking very sad, and asks me why I got into this muck. I told him that, if he felt so bad, he should marry me and pull me out of this muck. He says he would when the time came. He talked about something, ‘borothal aaktu’[12] or some such thing; said he was working hard to change things… hell,” Sumitra said, and got up to get to work.

 These women may not be educated, may not know much, but they do know words like ‘Brothel Act’ and ‘Anti-Nautch Act’. They have heard plenty about these Government laws.

“These men may kick and scream all they want about the Brothel Act. Yet they are no different from any other male when it comes down to sleeping around. Their male mentality is not going anywhere,” Damayanti commented.

Kavi garu, the man they were talking about, is about 30-years old. He was wearing a glasgoe shirt and a dhoti[13] with Culcutta border[14]. He brought a magazine featuring one of his poems. Sumitra came to him.

Kavi garu held her with his arm around her waist, and said, “You are looking gorgeous, in this rose-colored saree.”

“Good, let’s go to a movie,” Sumitra suggested.

Going to a movie with this gorgeous woman on his arm was not one of his choice activities. It could lead to disaster if his friends or acquaintances saw them together.

“Not now, Sumi! I will explain it to you later. Here, see this magazine. I brought it for you,” he said coaxingly her and walked her into the next room. Sumitra can read minimally though. She reads magazines and books. She enjoys especially stories of damsels in distress and the knights in shining armor. She enjoys being that heroinee. That’s why she followed him into the next room without any more fuss.

 The few items made available to them in that room sum up their lives: a worn-out tape-cot with tattered tape hanging loosely, a filthy pancho spread on the cot, a grubby pillow, partly torn and the cotton-stuffing falling out, a water jug, a glass tumbler sitting on a stool in one corner of the room, and, a grubby mirror on the wall. There are three such rooms in that house. This one is middle level intended for people with limited means.

 The next room is for high-class people. That room has a mattress, a chair, a table and a flower vase with paper flowers. This room gets a little light and air as well. The third room is darn cheap, has a straw mat and a gunny sack stuffed with coconut strands for a pillow. A mud pot and an aluminum tumbler are kept in a corner.

 The only plausible facility for this ‘hell on the earth’ is the protection Rangaiah provides for the women. Whenever policemen show up at the door, he talks to them and fixes the problem. In return, the women provide ‘service’ for the policemen at no cost. The women are busy most of the time. Hardly any of the women has a minute for herself. If, by some stroke of luck, one of them finds some free time, either Rangaiah or some cop would fill that time-slot.

  In general, the women are entitled to the use of the first room during the first six months of their arrival. Their faces look okay during that period. After a year or so, they are moved to the second room. The charge for the second room is two and a half rupees per night. By the time they get to the second room their faces look worn out and their cheeks sunken. After six months they are moved to the third room. The charge for the third room is three quarters of a rupee, darn cheap. By the time they enter this room, they lose their hair, their teeth loosen and they start walking with their feet apart and painfully. By the end of the second year, half of them end up on the sidewalks begging for lose change. Half of them will be carrying a baby, a hopeless lump of human flesh, with one big red hole for mouth and nose.

 The customers in the first room are doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Mid-level office employees, students, and teachers use the second room. The third room serves the purpose for the elderly men, horse-cart drivers, railway porters, and such. All these males go wild anytime a new woman shows up in town as if it were a special holiday. Police inspectors can pick any woman as they please. If they were displeased they are sure to exercise their authority and throw the women in jail…


 Back to the story: A snakecharmer’s wife brought in two babies. Anasuya and Arundhati took the babies, one each, and proceeded to their customers’ houses. The baby is a ruse for the woman to pass as a family woman. The same men who hanker for other women in order to satisfy their own carnal pleasures, and the police officers who are supposed to protect the women from abuse and atrocities, are kindly disposed toward these women who present themselves as mothers! What a great country we live in! Amazing– the unique veneration we profess for the magnificent concept of motherhood!

  Arundhati walked and walked and walked and after what seemed to be an eternity finally arrived at a narrow lane. She stopped at a house and knocked on the door three times. A man, wearing a checkered lungi and knit T-shirt, opened the door. He grabbed Arundhati by her hair and dragged her in as he bawled, “You bitch, you are late.”

Arundhati, stifling her pain, replied, “you know, sir, I had to take the round about route to dodge the cops.”

The man did not say another word. He yanked the baby from her, threw him into a corner and seized her with a brute force. Fifteen minutes passed by. The child was crying all that while.

Another fifteen minutes passed before Arundhati was let go. Now, there were fresh bruises on her cheeks and lips. Her hair was messy. She could hardly walk with the baby in her arms. The child was crying non-stop. She felt a quiver in her heart and held him tight to her bosom.

Anasuya, holding the two-year old baby in her arms, went to a room rented by four students, future leaders of India and the backbone of our great nation! They would share her, a common practice among college students. The students were aware that if the landlady saw Anasuya she would flog them alive. Therefore, the students would usually wait until the landlady went to the temple, and then, send a message to Rajamma. Today, Rajamma sent Anasuya to their room. As soon as they saw Anasuya they stood up.

“Did you send for a woman?” Anasuya asked them, to make sure.

They haggled briefly about the rate. The terms for exchanging the much-venerated chastity of the woman were agreed upon. The men offered one and quarter rupee per person or five rupees total. Anasuya agreed.

“Hey, Yajulu, check the baby. Maybe, we could have her too,” Setti suggested.

“Why not? That’s a female too, right? A chick is a chick; age makes no difference. Seems like she is in good shape,” replied another student.

Anasuya felt sick. “Please, leave her alone,” she begged them.

Her words did not stop them. On the other hand one of them found it even more exciting. He poked the smiling baby with his finger. Yajulu felt sick in the pit of his stomach.

“Stop. Are you a beast or what?’ he screamed.

The four men rearranged the furniture in a rush, in preparation for their lewd venture. They raised a tape-cot and covered it with a bedspread to make a temporary partition. Anasuya went behind the screen. The four students went behind the screen, one by one in turn. Each one of them took about a half hour.

After the ritual was over, the students poured coffee from thermos and sat down sipping. The baby was staring at them with hungry looks. One of them spilled some coffee on the floor. The baby slouched on her belly and started licking the coffee off the floor. Anasuya came out of the hideout. She hoped they would give her some coffee but no such luck. She took the five rupees they handed her, waited until the baby finished licking the coffee, and left. She heard one of them say “mush,” and, others laugh.

Anasuya was walking by Vinoda movie theater and saw a woman at the street corner. The woman did not look familiar. “I never saw this woman in Vijayawada before,” she told herself but did not stop to talk to her.

After 4 or 5 days, Anasuya made the connection with the new face and convinced her to join their group. Her name was Suseela, just arrived from Madras. It is part of human nature, I guess, to be curious about how others involved in the same business fared in other places. The women in Rajamma’s establishment started asking questions. They wanted to know how they conduct business in Madras.

Suseela considered herself civilized since she lived in a big city called Madras. She gave them all the juicy details about the business in Madras. Isn’t it interesting that almost everyone respects his/her profession and refers to it as “business”, irrespective of prevelant, general perception of the same!

“I used to live in Teynampet[15]. I was acting small parts in the movies and offering sexual favors on the side.

I could earn a rupee a day. Actually, my hometown was not too far from here. I went to Madras with high hopes, for a career in the movies. I headed straight to Madras and got off at the Central Railway Station. I was scared and was looking a little lost, I suppose. A nice-looking man noticed me and asked me in Telugu, “Where are you from?”

It felt so good to hear a Telugu sound. I told him everything—where I was from, why I was there, and all.

He snapped his fingers and said, “No big deal. I can arrange that.” He said that, I resembled Anjalidevi[16] from every angle.

I was ecstatic, and followed him without thinking twice where I was heading. I had thirty rupees on me at the time. I thought I could get a break in the movies before I used up my cash.

The gentleman showed me around, sightseeing. Fifteen rupees were gone. Next day, he came rushing in and said, “I have a part for you in the movies. Come on, get up, quick.” In that moment, he looked like  God for me. We both went to the studio. There were sixty more women and they all were dressed up pretty much the same way I did. They broke us up into two groups and told us to line up on either side of the set. The heroine danced on the center stage. I am telling you, that is the heaven, there is no other place. As for me, the life is meaningless if you don’t act in the movies. After the dance, somebody yelled, “Cut.”

“Cut? What’s that?” Damayanti asked.

“Well, you know, they say ‘cut’ after the ‘shot’. I got two rupees for my share. I didn’t get any other part though for a couple of weeks. Now, the remaining fifteen rupees I brought with me also was gone. The man who was supposed help me disappeared without a trace. I was lost for a while. I couldn’t go home either. Then came the extra-supplier into my life. Sometimes you get four or five parts in one month. At other times you get nothing. Finally, it became obvious that there was no way I could get by without doing the business. That’s how I got into this business.”

“Are you saying the men in Madras are also the same?” Damayanti asked.

“All the men in the entire world are the same when it comes to sex, no difference,” Sumitra said.

“Well, here, men say, ‘this is what I want. You name the price’. It’s different in Madras. It is up to them. Anyway, I joined the friends’ circle,” Suseela continued.

“Friends’ circle? What’s that?” Subbulu asked, puzzled.

“Something like a group of people or a club. A man named Sahasranamam was the president of the friends’ circle. He was 60-years old. It’is good for our business to become a member in the club. They would maintain a list of all the members in the club. Sometimes, they plan a picnic. Both males and females can become members and they make new friends at the picnic. My neighbor, Thangammal made friends, with a rich doctor. She got lucky, I must say. The only problem is, unless you sleep with that old rat, Sahasranamam, you can’t get membership; the foxy scoundrel. He sent for me one day and I went there. He told me to follow a woman, she was slick, you know. Two men were waiting for us. That was so strange. Remember the movie I was in? the producer of that movie was also there. I recognized him but he didn’t recognize me. I liked the second man better. He treated me like a person, you know. After that I met him a few times and listened to his problems. He said, he had any number of lovers—teachers, nurses, movie stars, and whores, a million of them, he said,” Suseela continued to narrate her story.

“You are bluffing. Are you telling us that he had so many women running after him, and still, came to you?” Ratnam expressed her disbelief.

“No, that’s not what I said. I said I was running after him. He did say the truth. I saw the other women with my own two eyes. One day, I went to see him and saw a woman walking out of his room. She threw sizzling looks at me. I could see she was a family woman. After that I went in. He was not tired at all. Quite a man! On another day, I saw another woman stunningly beautiful. Then, I saw another woman with him. They both left in an auto rickshaw. I asked him about her. He didn’t say it, not in so many words, but later I came to know the whole story from Sahasranamam.’’

 It was 1:00 in the afternoon. It was blistering hot. The women in Rajamma’s house were trying to get some sleep but could not because of the sweltering heat. Only Rajamma could sleep like a baby in her room because her room has khus khus[17] shades hanging from the windows. The nine women were chatting with the new woman, Suseela. Her words were very soothing to their thirsty, worn out ears. They were excited to hear all the amazing business techniques in Madras. As soon as they heard that Sahasranamam told Suseela the entire story, their ears pricked for the story.

  Suseela continued her narration, “The man I was talking about was her husband. I think, she has four or five children. She sings at concerts and also in the All India Radio. She was born in a high-class family and was married into a high-class family. The families on both the sides are rich. It’s really weird. I could understand if she were poor like you and I. It seems, the husband finds men at the railway station or some other places like high-class hotels and brings them home to prostitute her. She charged one hundred rupees per night, from what I heard.”

“One hundred rupees!” Their jaws fell, in shock.

“What did you think? It is no joke. Her bedroom looks like a movie set of the heaven. The room has everything—a fan, air conditioner, and all. You know what I mean. Here we are roasting like pigs for all the heat. In her room it is so cool like on a rainy day because of that air conditioner. It seems she will keep coffee and ovaltin in a thermos and all kinds of sarees in mirrored closets. She will ask her customer to pick the saree of his choice.”

The women were listening, spellbound.

“Let’s say, he picks a parrot-green saree. She would take that saree and goes into the next room. She gives him some magazines to read while she was getting dressed. Her husband would be there to help with her makeup; he picks a matching colored, velvet blouse, and matching jewelry like emerald necklace, earrings, and all that. The customer would be just mesmerized. Then she sings for a little while. She would not get down to business until and unless she was that dazzlingly beautiful, you know.”

“If, they are so rich, how did the in-laws allow it?” Sita, being the smart one, raised the question.

“That exactly is my point. She became like that only after she turned thirty. It seems, once, while she was living in their in-law’s home, somebody from a royal family saw her and wanted to have her. Apparently it was at that time she lost her mind. Later, she came to her senses and realized that if the in-law’s came to know about it they would kill her. So, the prince struck a deal with the husband. Don’t ask me, how. I don’t understand it either. That stupid husband of a man, it seems, has even a college degree. God knows how or why but he went along. He would tell his parents that he and his wife were going to a movie or something and then fix her up with this prince. That prince paid him ten thousand rupees, I believe. This went on for about four or five months. Eventually the old couple came to know about the affair and threw them out.

At first, it was only the prince, and the prince was paying ten thousand rupees, per month. The husband and the wife got used to the comforts; bought a car, and all other fancy stuff. Then, a businessman saw her, and offered a diamond necklace, worth 25,000 rupees, for one night; and the husband and wife got carried away.”

“Twenty five thousand rupees!” Sumitra reached out for a glass of water.

Suseela continued, “The business did not stop, with one night. The prince came to know about it, and, he beat them up, and threw them out, I mean the husband and the wife. By that time, she has two children, and pregnant, with a third child. The businessman heard about her pregnancy, and disappeared, into the thin air. Their life became a public scandal. They’ve gotten used to freeloading. They sold the car. She delivered the baby. She started getting calls, again. The husband and wife would dress up nicely, and go to the movies, find some rich customers, and bring them home. They had a fantastic life, for a while.”

“So, what is the ‘deperance’ [difference] between she and we? Why do we have to wiggle, like this?” Sumitra asked.

“The ‘deperance’ [difference] is plenty. The men want family women, not us. She is a family woman; she has a husband, and children. Secondly, she is high class, you see; she is a knockout. Her room is heaven, like that of Lord Indra. She sings beautifully, speaks English, she can even read, and isn’t that a lot? What do we have, you and me?  The wretched selves, we are! There is one more thing. She goes to the doctor everyday, and gets a check up just in case, you know. Here we are, all we have is disease and death,” Suseela said.

“True, all we have are diseases, wretched life for sure,” Damayanti spit, in disgust.

“She conducts business at night and early in the morning prays to her family gods and Tulasi plant[18],” Suseela added.

“You mean, she eats meat but does wear the bones in her neck as we do. What is wrong with that idiot of a husband, anyways? You said he has a bachelor’s degree. Why can’t he go out, get a job, and support his family? Why jerk around with his wife like this,” Savitri commented.

“You don’t get it, do you? What kind of job could he get with his B.A. degree? How can they have all that fancy stuff like the car and two-story building with a few hundred rupees per month he could earn? You mentioned something, what is that, ‘kandeesanu’ [Conditioner] or something? How could he get that? Where could she get the gorgeous sarees and all that stuff?” said Sumitra, a.k.a., Sumi Kavi’s lover.

You get great flowers in Madras and wonderful sweets [desserts] in Hyderabad. Each city is famous for something, known for its own specialty. When it comes to a woman selling her body, all the cities and townships are the same. The only difference is the way you refer to them—you’d say ‘extra beauties’ in Teynampet, and ‘Parsi splendor’ in[19] Pyari bazaar. That’s all.

Kavi garu, Sumitra’s lover, is crazy about ‘pativratyam[20] in women. That is because he is a womanizer. Usually, people find gratification in writing about the things they cannot cherish in real life. He is one of them. He has wife and children.

Kavi garu sat down and in the living room and busy writing something. His wife was sitting on the floor, across from him, and cleaning dal. Their child was playing with a drum-cart. The environment was not conducive to his writing activity. Kavi garu stopped writing and started reading poetry aloud. Into this rumpus, a gentleman walked.

The kind and caring gentleman was about 40-years old. Kavi garu saw him and invited him heartily, “Come in.” The gentleman came in and sat in a chair facing Kavi garu.

Kavi garu said, “Great men like you do not show up without a reason. What is yours?” he asked.

“Did you hear about the Asram I started a while ago?’’

“Yes, yes. Of course, I heard about it. The one on the west end of the town, right?”

“Right. I came here to talk to you about the Asram.”

“Of course, anything. Tell me whatever you need. Do you want me to write a play?”

“This is what I’m thinking. Currently, we have four destitute women in the Asram. You know, how difficult it is to feed four persons. I am trying to raise funds for that purpose. I will be eternally grateful to you if you could sign up for a monthly contribution to the Asram.”

“Let me ask you this first. Why are you bothered about fixing the world? You can never straighten those roguish bitches. Besides, you also know, that we are not talking about one or two women here. There are millions of them. How can you save them all? Why don’t you put them to work?”

“I am trying, I tried to have ‘papad’ made by them and sell. Nobody would come forward to buy them. They would say with a snicker ‘papad from Asram?’ or ‘papad made by those bitches?’ You know, these women are not educated and have no skills for any other job.”

“Look, Pantulu garu[21], no matter how you see it there are more than one thousand wanton women in this town alone. What is the point in trying to save four women?”

“I know it is a fierce struggle, even to save four women. I am hoping to help these four women, that’s a start. If I could find a footing for these four women, I am sure I can help them to stand on their legs. All I need is a little support from people like you.”

“Certainly I will. It’s ironic after the government has introduced the Brothel Act this has become a booming business. Do you know that in Russia and Japan they have to register like any other profession? The government issues them a green ticket and also provides medical care, regular check ups, and all that. I think we should have similar policy in our country too.”

“I saw your play recently. It was good. You have depicted the condition of the prostitutes very well; how the prostitute destroyed the hero, and how his wife was wailing… it was very much like “Chintamani”[22]. Anyways, let us talk about your contribution.”

“Yes, I was coming to that point. You will have to excuse me in this regard. I have a family to support, you see.”

“Kavi garu, I am not asking for much. Even two rupees per month would go long ways. You know it is not much. If people like you hold back where else can I go?”

“Two rupees! I was thinking more on the lines of a quarter of a rupee. Don’t push me to the wall.”

“Namesthe.” Pantulu garu stood up, and left.

As soon as he was out of sight Kavi snickered, “I have seen them all. All that talk about rescuing women! Who’s he kidding? The whole world knows that he is supporting four sluts.”


The wife finished cleaning dal, poured it back into the tin box, stretched her legs, and started chewing betal nut. She knows full well the real character of her husband.

“That gentleman came asking for help, for a good cause and you offered a quarter, quaa..rr…t..er…, wretched quarter. Why don’t you go and have your head shaved for that quarter,” she said, enraged.

“You shut up. I have better things to do than throwing away my money on contributions like that. That idiot announced to the world, ‘I am keeping four bitches and you help me to support them’. You think I am not smart enough to see that.”

“Of course, you won’t. If all the women go to the Asram, where can you find women for your fun? That is the real reason behind no man coming forward to support Pantulu garu in his struggle.”

“You rot in hell. Whoever could save them? Premchand wrote about these miserable women in Hindi. There is also a Russian novel, ‘Yama’. Now, there is a play in Telugu written by me. If anything I am the only one to do something to save these women.”

“Don’t I know? You sat down with the play ‘Chintamani’ by your side, switched the names- Syamala for Chintamani, Suseela for Radha, and Rama Rao for Bilvamangaludu- and copied the entire play. Don’t even try to bluff, not around me.”

“Shut your mouth. Good conduct does not mean following the worn out practices. Is that your critique? All right, you tell me how to rewrite bringing it up to modern times. I’m listening. Go on, tell me. It is not like mouthing off empty words, my dear! Action, that is what’s important. You tell me, how you can support one thousand women?”

“That is no big deal. However, I must give it to you. Intellectuals like you would not listen to me. Let all the pillars of the society, all the leaders, muster their strength, start an Asram, round up all the destitute women, using force if necessary, put them in an Asram, and teach them skills necessary to earn their livelihood. That is not a humungous task, is it? It’s true the women would resist at first. However if gentlemen like you start treating them as humans, they certainly would change their minds. I will guarantee it. Men like you would never do that. That is the real reason those women refuse to join the Asram. Let me tell you, there is something else. If, the women were educated in the first place, they would have learned to think for themselves. No, that did not happen. On the other hand, they left it to people like you to think on their behalf, and all you have is only crooked thoughts! By some fluke, some gentleman like Pantulu garu comes forward to do some good and men like you rise up in arms; and, all you do is slander him. One quarter of a rupee? You chew pan leaves like a goat everyday and that costs half a rupee per day. You offered half of that. Shame on you. Pantulu garu has seen your true color today, you a great writer!”

“Wow! What a lecture! Your father sent you to school and now I am in trouble.”

“Good. Otherwise, I also would have kept quiet even after seeing your true colors. It is only because of my education, I could manage the household. Imagine what would have happened if I had listened to you and ran away with you instead of going to school! Probably, I would have ended up in the same profession in Teynampet or some other, similar neighborhood. Education does not mean just reading; it is about, the worldly knowledge. Look at my uncle’s daughter.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. It seems, that daughter of your uncle also landed in the same Asram run by Pantulu garu. Probably, you know that through your women folks’ intelligence agency. Is that why you are so keyed up on giving money to the Asram?”

“You have such a crooked mind! Is this my karma or what? Never mind. Have you ever had any plausible idea in your life? You are so full of it; you call yourself a writer. You never write about the hunger in the world. You’d scribble six pages describing Urvasi serving heavenly nectar to Indra in the heaven[23]! It is so boring to say the least. Did you ever write about the miserable woman who contracted a venereal disease and died like a dog on the street? You scribble away ten pages extolling the virtues of Sita—a topic that has been written over and over by million others. What is the point of all your writing, anyways? If you ask me, a real writer writes about the realities of life. Rest of you are writers of chaff who write about chastity in the name of love, paternal devotion, and all that muck.”

“Go to hell, you and your stupid critique. How could a buffalo relish the taste of sweet rice?”

“Exactly, I feel the same way. What is the point of standing on the shore and taking pictures of a man drownin in the lake? You must pull him out of the water first, administer first aid and then take as many pictures as you like. You are fighting in the air if you ask me. It is meaningless to plagiarize “Chintamani” play and tout your horn as a writer. You know the proverb, the bloody sores of a bull are delicious to a crow![24]


On the eastern shores of Krishna River, there is a small, fenced-in hut. Beautiful creepers like radhamanoharam, bluebells, and jasmine, spread over the fence and are pleasing to the eye. In front of the hut, there are flowerbeds of marigold, chandrakantam,chamanti, kanakambaram, bursting splendidly like an arrogant, young woman shattering the shackles of tradition. That hut is the Asram for the fallen women, the one Pantulu garu started. There are four women in that hut. They are wearing hand-woven sarees. One of them was looking slightly different. She is Parvati, Kavi’s wife’s cousin.

 The other three women were standing under the flower bushes and whispering. They hated Parvati for her brains and her good looks. Isn’t that the way the world is? Fallen may be, yet they are not above the normal desires and jealousies that are natural to any human being. They want to avenge themselves on the world. They are convinced that Pantulu garu treated Parvati as someone special and that was because there was that “thing” going on between the two. They were hurt that Pantulu garu did not have “that thing” for them. In their minds, they had a good life, had good food, and Pantulu garu seduced them with false promises and now they are left with no choice but to swallow this bland food served to them day after day. The world labeled them as “kept women” of Pantulu garu. The women were broken-hearted, because they were “not kept”. As far as they were concerned, they were the losers no matter how you looked at it. We have to give it to Pantulu garu for walking on this double-edged sword! It is only a matter of time before he got his legs chopped off by that sword.

 On that particular day the same thing happened. Parvati and Pantulu garu were inside the hut discussing their strategy for running the Asram. The three women, standing under the bushes outside, were convinced that Pantulu garu and Parvati were involved in a romantic chat. That a man and woman could discuss other things was beyond the scope of their comprehension.

  Inside the hut, Pantulu garu sat on a chair and Parvati sat on a mat, looking down. She slowly lifted her head and asked, “So, you could not get even ten rupees?”

“No, I couldn’t raise any money, not even ten rupees, child! I went around, until my feet turned sore. All the rich businessmen, doctors, lawyers–every one of them showed empty hand. Even your cousin, Kavi garu, said he could write a play for us but no money.”

“Did he specifically say that? Did you ask his wife, my cousin?”

“She was in the room right there when I was asking him. He offered a quarter of a rupee. I left without another word.”

“I think, good deeds are rewarded only with defeat in this world. Here the three women are just waiting to go back to their old profession; it is only a matter of time. The public are ridiculing us and the government has no plans to help us in our humanitarian efforts. All I can think of is to leave it to the God. ‘Only He can save us’ is a charming phrase but not a solution for survival on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, the women are complaining that we are not serving them meat, fish, and eggs, as if they’re sons-in-law![25] They keep complaining that I, being the cook, choose to eat the best items, and also because I come from a higher caste. What a headache!” Parvati sighed, exapserated.

 “Look, Parvati! There is a way if we set our minds to it, if want this Asram to succeed and to accomplish our goals. That’s actually in your hands. Will you promise me that you will listen to me?”

“You don’t have to ask me, sir. Of course, I will listen to you. Tell me what can I do.”

“Simple. You are beautiful and smart and a talented singer too. I have a friend, a film producer. I sent your photograph to him and got his response too, yesterday. He agreed to book you as heroine in his picture. What do you say?”

  Parvati was silent for a few minutes. In order to accomplish their goals, they need money; and, she could become a movie star to earn that money. Would it be wrong to become a movie star? Prostitution could be wrong; stealing could be wrong; but how could acting be wrong especially when it is for a noble cause? It made sense. Parvati agreed. Pantulu garu was elated.

 “Look Parvati, you will earn a lot of money and status, no doubt. Never let the money and glory overtake your ideals. Your goal must still be this place. Now, get up and get ready. You must leave the day after tomorrow,” he said and got up from his chair.


Kavi garu entered Rajamma’s house, and went straight to Sumitra’s room. Sumitra was lying on the bed, curled up. Kavi garu had not seen her for six weeks. He thought that Sumitra was upset because he did not visit her for so long.

    “My love!” he said, imitating classic heroes.

    Sumitra did not respond.

“Sumi, come on, I will be upset, dear, if you don’t talk to me,” he said.

Still, there was no response from Sumitra. He sat by her side and pulled her toward him gently. “Are you angry with me, my love?” he asked, again, sounding dramatic.

Sumitra couldn’t help laughing.

“Are you saying this is all your love for me?” She said.

“What kind of question is that? Of course, I love you. You don’t doubt that, do you?” he said.

“Okay, I am not going to deny that you love me. You will do anything for me, right? You will never leave me, right?”

“Never. How can I leave you and live, my little love? Come on, Look at me…”

“Wait, don’t rush. There is something, I want to tell you. I was waiting for you. How come you didn’t show for over a month?”

“I went out of town, Sumi! Shh, shh. You are wasting time talking empty words. Come on turn around. Look at me…”

“Wait, wait… You… are really something else. First, you need to take care of my health and then only you can touch me. The pain is killing me.”

Kavi garu was shocked. He was silent for a few seconds and then asked her what was her problem. His voice did not sound sweet anymore.

Sumitra pulled up her saree and showed the marks on her body—red spots, size of her palm, just a little above the knee, the marks of the frightening disease, syphilis.


 It was nine in the morning. Sumitra lay on her bed and cried her eyes out. Sita sat next to her.

    Sumitra got up, dabbed her tears and said, softly, “Sita, I want to tell you something. Will you listen to me?”

“Yes, sister, tell me. What is it?” Sita said.

“Sita, I have fifty rupees. You take that money, my sarees, and my earrings. You are still young. Escape from this horrible, kite-like life while you can. Find a decent living. All these comforts are like water bubbles. Go to Pantulu gari Asram.”

“Oh, no. I can’t take your sarees and earrings.” Sita protested, vehemently.

“Wait. Let me finish. Do you remember the military man? He came here two weeks back. He paid me fifty rupees, and gave me this disease, syphilis, also in the process. Do you remember the woman we saw yesterday on our way to the movies? She had a big red hole for mouth and nose. That is how I am going to look soon. All this while, up until now, I was hoping, that Kavi garu would take care of me; all that stupid talk about love; and, all that chattering… Now he is gone. He won’t evem look at me. He will never come to me again. He is with Ratnamanjiram now, I heard. I’m telling you, Sita, this is a despicable life. Tell me. Will you go to the Asram?”

“I am not sure. I am scared.”

“Scared of what? You silly, come on, promise me, that you will go to the Asram.”

“Okay, I will. But you tell me that you will go to the doctor for sure.”

“What for? There is no cure for this disease. I am done, for life. I will stay here, and infect every scoundrel that visits this place. Let the rogues die the same way I’m dying.”


Sita went to the Asram.

Pantulu garu was happy, that, after Parvati left for Madras, there are four women in the Asram,. The reality however was different. Two of the women heard about Rajamma’s house and ran away. Those young women, being in the prime of their lives, wanted male company. That was not all. The life in the Asram was too flat for them, insipid. No man would come forward to marry them and so prostitution was the only recourse. Even if somebody had shown them a way of earning their livelihood, that would not satisfy their need for a man. We have to admit that Pantulu garu was off base in that regard.

Parvati was keen on achieving her goal. She wanted to do the best she could and leave the rest to the will of God. Therefore she left for Madras. The train was running at a high speed; so also were her thoughts. The train stopped at some railway station. She looked out the window at the sky. She watched the kites flying high and unfettered. She turned her eyes to the ground and looked at the water bubbles bursting. The kites reminded her of men and the water bubbles of women. The train started to move. The time won’t stop for any reason. Kites would keep flying and the water bubbles would keep bursting in much the same way as the train won’t quit moving.


Kavi garu was lying on the couch, somewhat dispirited. His wife was braiding her daughter’s hair.

Kavi garu heard about Sumitra’s suicide and that was bothering him. He felt responsible for her suicide. Every human being has a conscience somewhere in some dark corner which keeps giving him or her signals. However, the humans keep stifling it until it was totally destroyed.

Kavi garu kept bemoaning his stupid act and its consequences:

He used her for his pleasures for more than a year. As soon as she fell sick, he walked away. He walked away from her as if she were a sick dog. That was not all. He went and teamed up with another woman who was living in the same house. He told the second woman that the same words he said to Sumitra and through the same mouth. What did she do? Went and killed herself. Kavi garu could not help noticing the irony in all this.  Sumitra was frank enough to tell him of her disease. He, for his part, could not accept the responsibility and so just pushed her away. Ratnamanjiram, on the other hand, kept her disease a secret and quietly passed it on to him. God will not forgive him for deceiving Sumitra. Sumitra killed herself by hanging from the ceiling; her eyes and tongue stuck out; it was a revolting sight, and her saree was soiled in the final moments of her life. What a horrible sight… And who was responsible for that? He was. He himself was responsible for her miseries and horrible death. Kavi garu, suddenly felt like her dead body was laughing at him, ridiculing him because he was also afflicted with the same disease. This curse will go down his lineage for centuries. There is his wife. He robbed her of her health too. The children are like pure pearls. These children will drink from the same glass he and his wife drank. They’d come to him and say, ‘Dad, let me have a piece of curry from your plate,’ and they’d eat from his plate; they’ll also contract his disease… Their golden future will go to the dogs… He has nobody but himself to blame. Kavi garu broke down and started crying desperately.

Kavi’s wife was confused. She came running to him and asked him, with concern, “What’s wrong, now? Why are you crying?”

He went into a fit of wailing again.

“Come, come, talk to me. What happened? Did the creditors threaten us with a lawsuit? Or, your lover is asking for a gold necklace? Come on, stop crying like a woman and tell me what happened?” she went on coaxing him.

Kavi garu buried his face in her lap and told her the entire story. She was aware that her husband was a womanizer. She could forgive his weakness but it was his meanness that flipped her totally. As soon as she heard the reason for Sumitra’s suicide her heart boiled. She flew into a wild rage, “This stupid Brothel Act did more harm in reality than good to the world. In the past, there used to be beautiful, healthy courtesans waiting to serve idiots like you. They all lived in one neighborhood. Now, we have these playgirls right in the middle of family circles. Selling female bodies has become a booming business. Cch, cch. What a country? What a life? …People, pretending to be conducting honest businesses are conducting prostitution in broad daylight… We have the police officers what for? They are no different from any other male; and men like you are their patrons. What did you do? You had your fun, used her for your pleasure, and then, turned her off into the streets like a dog, as soon as you heard that she has contracted a disease. She is dead. God knows how many other women are dying like this everyday! Whom should we blame? You no doubt, it is your fault and the likes of you. Did you ever write about a woman, I mean, really? Did you try to depict their horrendous lives? You became a Kavi after some politician honored you. It is your fault; you, as a Kavi, should accept this responsibility.”

Kavi garu heard her words and pulled his hair in despair. But she did not stop. She kept ranting, pouring insults on her husband and the entire world.

“Frankly, the entire male population is sick, if you ask me. You should get syphilis and all other diseases and should rot in hell. I told you several times but you wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t care less whether you listened to me or not. What about your responsibility to the society? Did you think about that? Take a good hard look. You’ll see prostitution everywhere and here in particular. We have them dime a dozen everywhere— in every nook and corner, near movie theaters, and under the trees—conducting their business in public. Our dim-witted government wouldn’t give a damn. The God doesn’t give a damn. He is up in his heaven, basking in his own glory. Thanks to these prostitutes, diseases are spreading and families are being ruined. And the innocent, little children are dying for no good reason. Pch, pch.”

“Please forgive me, I am begging for your forgiveness. I will never do this again.”

“Never again? What a joke? What CAN you do, even if you want to? You are afflicted with syphilis; you know, and God knows you have no other choice but be good, really. No man in the world is as high-minded as a Eunuch![26] You have nobody but yourself to blame; you ruined your own life. Anyway, what is the point of blaming you. The entire world is rotten and is wasting away into nothingness. The whole world is afflicted with syphilis. Talk about the Anti-Nautch Act! Ha, ha! That is another hoax, nomore than butter in a butternut gourd! Not any different from the Prohibition Act. You know, after the law was put in place, those businesses doubled; every house has started making beer at home like soup. After the Anti-Nautch Act had passed, the law-enforcement officers are practically living amidst the prostitutes. The brothel houses are opened right in the heart of the town, in residential neighborhoods. Remember the proverb—ha, you carved a man ’n you got a chimp instead. [27] To hell with you all. As far as I could see, there are only two things left in the entire world—irresponsible men flying high in the sky like kites and the helpless, fallen women bursting like water bubbles. And the most venerated God is sleeping in his heaven.” She was quite stirred up by her husband’s cruel act and Sumitra’s suicide. Some people look passive and weak. But, in their hearts they feel, resident underneath, mountains and lotus flowers. Depending on the specific situation, either the mountain explodes like a volcano or the flower blossoms. Kavi’s wife is one of such people. She kept badgering her husband, the world, and God. Then she felt that that was not what she should be doing. She was not sure what she should do either, or, how could she cure the cancerous cells that were eating up the world for that matter.


A low-paid clerk from a small local administrative office came forward to marry Sita. He has no parents. Pantulu garu offered five thousand rupees as dowry. The clerk thought the money could come in handy, he could buy a small house in a nice neighborhood. He has been struggling with poverty all this life. That money was a big break for him, once in a lifetime chance. It didn’t matter whether Sita was a chaste woman or a prostitute. He decided that he would worry about it later.

The clerk’s name was Subba Rao. He was one of the million Subba Rao’s[28] in the country. This Subba Rao did not agree to marry Sita for love or out of the goodness of his heart. He considered it simply a stroke of luck that a good-for-nothing fellow like himself should run into such huge sum of money. He fell in love with and was prepared to marry the money not the woman.


 A movie named “Acchamma seemantham”, produced by Aggiraja productions, put Parvati’s name on the billboards all over Andhra Pradesh. Parvati did not forget her original purpose though. She offered five thousand rupees from her income to Pantulu garu for Sita’s marriage. The newspapers printed huge headlines featuring Parvati’s generosity and Subba Rao’s integrity as a bighearted man that married a prostitute.


The marriage of Sita and Subba Rao was performed on a modest scale. The couple exchanged flower garlands. Sita spent ten rupees from the money Sumitra gave her, got a gold tali made, and wore around her neck[29]. She firmly believed that she owed her luck, having a husband and a home, to Sumitra. She was elated at the thought and joined both her hands and expressed heartfelt gratitude to Sumitra and Parvati.

Sita’s marital bliss started in a small apartment on a small, filthy lane. Even on that narrow lane, there was a brothel house. Sita saw them, labeled ‘fallen women’, and felt good that she was ‘a family woman’ now. Subba Rao could not understand why Sita was so proud of him. For him the life was the same as always—he would eat, go to work and come back, no difference in his routine. He knew subconsciously that any other woman from a respectable family would have treated him like an insignificant thing, not a person. It was beyond his comprehension to see that Sita was worshiping him or her reasons for worshiping him. He wouldn’t be able to understand the concept in his lifetime. Not only that. He was also constantly worried that Sita could be interested in another man, or, who was she looking at? who was she talking to? and so on. He strongly believed that this catty woman could never be a person of integrity. Come to think of it, it’s ridiculous even to expect that his little mind could comprehend, could reach any level, higher than that.

One day, Subba Rao returned from work and saw Sita standing at the door, and at a distance somebody was riding a bike. He was furious. Standing like Gaggayya[30], he screamed, “Why are you standing here? Who’s that scoundrel on the bike? Don’t you ever try to play games with me… You, low-life b…”

Sita was stunned. Until now she believed that only men at Rajamma’s house could use such cheap, abusive terminology. She was shocked to hear the same words from her husband, Subba Rao. Are all the men in the world the same when it comes to addressing a woman? she wondered.

Sita lived like this for a year. In that one year, Subba Rao’s behavior made her wonder several times how this house was better than Rajamma’s? Sita was also, pregnant now. She could feel the little fetus move in her tummy, and that was the only thing that brightened her days. The thought that her baby would have a father pleased her.

Subba Rao deposited the dowry money, five thousand rupees, in a bank. In general, he did not trust Sita. For the same reason he did not feel obligated to feed her either. One day, she, being pregnant, had a craving for upma[31]. That was an unnecessary expense, said Subba Rao. She kept quiet. In our country, a woman’s word means nothing; and,it is worse if the word came from a fallen woman.

Sita gave birth to a boy. She had the delivery in a government hospital[32]. On the eleventh day, she hired a rickshaw and came home with the baby. She went in and asked Subba Rao for six annas to pay to the rickshaw driver.

Subba Rao flipped. “Why didn’t walk home? Where do we have the money to throw away on a rickshaw? You know what! I don’t care. You find the money yourself or go to hell,” he shouted. These were also some exemplary phrases interspersed in his ranting. Sita couldn’t speak; she stood there with the baby, held tight to her chest. She did not have six annas. She understood for the first time that she made a big mistake when she gave the money, she got from Sumitra, to Subba Rao.

The rickshaw driver was standing in the front yard and watching the argument between the husband and the wife and felt sorry for Sita. He said to Subba Rao, “Hey, are you nuts? She just had baby. How could ask her to walk from the hospital. You don’t know me. You had better pay my fare or else…”

Subba Rao was not only a two-bit idiot,but also a coward. He understood that the rickshaw driver meant business. He paid rickshaw driver the fare grudgingly though.

Sita was looking forward to this moment–showing off her little baby. She was disappointed. She went in, heated water for a bath for herself and the baby. She looked at the baby and was overwhelmed with happiness. One day, she tried to show the baby to Subba Rao, hoping he would be as excited as she was. He turned away. Sita did not notice it. “Here is your dad,” she said to the baby and was about to hand him to Subba Rao.

“Dad? What dad? Who is dad for this son of a bitch?” he laughed loud and walked away.

Sita’s self-esteem which was lying low until now leapt like a cobra hood. What could she do, though? She tried to convince herself that that was his upbringing, and hugged the baby to her bosom. She was not sure which one was the real hell—Rajamma’s house or Subba Rao’s house? Now she knew that she mistook this house for heaven. However, the little baby was the one precious gem she has gotten amidst all this disaster. She has learned to find comfort in the baby in her arms and forget all her pain. She would put the cot in a corner, lay down the baby and cover him fully with her old sarees,by the time Subba Rao got home. Subba Rao hated the baby. One day, he saw the baby on the floor. “Why did you leave this thing on the floor,” he said, kicking him. The child started crying. That was the reason, Sita was keeping the baby out of Subba Rao’s sight.

One day, the baby was sick, couldn’t breathe. Sita told Subba Rao about it with tearful eyes.

Subba Rao replied rudely, “Don’t worry. He is not going to die; and if does, no big loss. You can bear any number of children, woman of the town!” and left for work. Sita couldn’t sit there, doing nothing about the illness. She picked him up, bolted the door, and took him to the clinic round corner.

The doctor was kind. He checked the child and expressed concern. Sita’s heart sunk.

“What is the matter, doctor!” She started weeping.

The doctor jotted down a prescription and said, “We need to administer these shots within twenty four hours or we might lose the child.”

Sita returned home, with the prescription. She told Subba Rao as soon as he came home. Subba Rao hit the roof. He said he didn’t have the money to pay for the medications of all the s.o.b.s in the world. Sita begged him. He became even more stubborn. She cried. He laughed. She came to a frightening decision. In a fit of anger, she tore the tali and the black beads from her neck and threw them in his face, picked up the child, got into a rickshaw, and told the rickshaw driver to take her to Rajamma’s house. ..

The child’s health improved in a few days and the mother also started feeling better. She never went back to Subba Rao. Actually, that was what Subba Rao also hoping for. Sita was still confused about the difference between the two houses—that of Subba Rao and Rajamma. For her, both the places seemed to be the same. There was one consolation here—she was raising her son on her own income.


Kavi garu became a strong believer in monogamy now. Not only that. He even started paying a monthly donation, ten rupees, to the Asram. He wrote two more plays, based on the same play, “Chintamani.” In addition, he decided to contact one of his acquaintances, a female writer, Madhavidevi, and encourage her to write an article on the brothel houses in the country. He also prepared a list of all the brothel houses for publication. Madhavidevi told him that she would like to visit a brothel house and obtain necessary information first hand before writing the article. Kavi garu took her to Rajamma’s house.

Kavi garu and Madhavidevi arrived at Rajamma’s house at two in the afternoon. The prostitutes were sleeping. Rangaiah saw that an old customer, Kavi garu, returned and brought a new account also. He invited both of them enthusiastically and winked at Kavi garu, implying he was pleased at the prospect.

Kavi garu was hurt. Earlier, he tried to dissuade Madhavidevi from this visit for the same reason. But Madhavidevi insisted that she had to see the place. Kavi garu was also aware that if he had told Rangaiah the real reason of their visit, he would be asking for trouble. Rangaiah wouldn’t want their activities featured prominently in newspapers. Therefore Kavi garu came up with a strategy. He knew Rangaiah was considering selling this house. Kavi garu introduced Madhavidevi as a prospective buyer for the house. Rangaiah apologized,and showed them all the rooms.

Madhavidevi couldn’t see any notable philosophy of life in those rooms. All she could see was only the monstrous side of our society which was bungled, dancing naked, and laughing like a hyena with a terrifying roar. She took a peek into the first room. A woman was lying across the cot in her underwear, and her makeup from the night before faded; she was charming in her own way. The room was smelling of high-class cigarettes. Then they went to the second room. The woman there was scratching all over even in her sleep. Her face looked worn out and saggy; it was a heartbreaking and revolting sight. The third room was frightening beyond description. Anybody who peeks into this room would turn stiff for fear of losing their minds.

Madhavidevi saw a woman sleeping naked covered by a tattered, old saree for a sheet. Her mouth was half open, and flies were hovering around her mouth. If any man saw a woman in that condition, in all probability, he would not want to be with a woman again in his life. Madhavidevi’s face turned into a stone. The entire area was filled with a rancid stink and, in that nauseating surroundings, she heard a baby’s cry, like the song of a blue bird in the midst of a desert. Madhavidevi turned around and saw Sita.

Madhavidevi was a little surprised to see the sweet little baby and the mother. She left quickly with Kavi garu, and then said, “Ask that mother to come with us. I would like to talk to her.” Kavi garu went in and mumbled something to Sita. Whatever he said it worked. Sita followed them in another rickshaw to Madhavidevi’s place. She invited Sita in, politely, “Please, come in.”

They all sat down in the living room. Sita looked around and was lost in a reverie, “This is what I’d call life,” she told herself. Which gods did Madhavidevi worship to deserve this? Whatever she has done to win this wonderful lifestyle? A man, probably Madhavidevi’s husband, walked into the room. He was holding a little baby in his hands. Sita tried to compare the two babies, hers and Madhavidevi’s.

Sita was not scared at all. She answered all the questions of Madhavidevi. Madhavidevi took elaborate notes. It was hard for women like Sita to have a good life in this world. There was one scene in Rajamma’s house that got to Madhavidevi. That was Rangaiah kicking a sleeping woman to wake her up. How could anybody be so coldhearted and kick another human? Even a cowherd would be more kind to his animals. What is wrong with these two-legged animals? Do they have the blood of a demon running in their veins? She couldn’t believe the horrible story, Sita narrated. She understood in that very minute the millions of miles of distance between our fantasies and the reality.

As Sita got up to leave, Madhavidevi gave her five rupees and told her to come to her if she ever needed anything. Sita left holding her baby tight to her bosom. Madhavidevi took her baby from her husband and held tight, heaving a deep sigh. There could be so many variations in the lives of women in the world but when it comes to maternal instinct their responses are the same.

Parvati heard how her well-meaning effort to arrange an ideal marriage spending five thousand rupees ended. She lost half of her faith. Then, she heard that the other two women in the Asram ran away. She was totally disgusted with all the female kind. Now she was interested only in taking care of her bank account. Pantulu garu, also stopped reminding Parvati of her high aims.

In the movie field, the value of feminine charm is much higher than talent and creativity. In fact, anywhere in the world in general and in India in particular the only way a woman can make a living is by pawning her femininity. Currently, sex is leading our lives like a train engine. It is true sex is important but that is not the only thing in life. There is no doubt that, if we could stop looking at sex as the only thing in life, one half of the problem of prostitution would go away. It is unfortunate that sex took charge of our lives instead of we, the humans. If we, humans, could take control, the other half of the problem would disappear. That was how Parvati reorganized her thoughts and rationalized the life around her which included the institution of prostitution. That was the only way she could go on with her life. She was too scared to speak them aloud, though.

A couple of magazines asked Parvati to write her autobiography but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. A woman’s best asset was her cowardice; she would not trust even the path she was walking on. She was worried every second. That is why many people would say that a woman’s moral downfall starts with her lack of faith in herself. Even if she had faced defeat due to her weakness, it’s a virtue. She could get credit from some people.

Parvati is doing well in the movies. Currently, she has roles in 13 movies. She has plenty of money and status. But the very problem which she wanted to fight, her reason for entering the movie field, is everywhere. It is like the ten demons that rise from each drop of blood that fell on the ground.[33] She was stunned, when she found out that so-called extras were earning their living only through prostitution. She was nauseated to see what was happening in the name of art. Look at our mythological stories: the Lord Nataraja, the emperor of dance, supposed to have elevated dance to a form of art; the sage Bharata wrote a treatise on the art of dance; the goddess of learning, Saraswati, is an expert veena-player, and Parvati, the supreme Mother is a great dancer herself. There was a time in this country when fine arts were held in highest esteem and the artists were revered. Now, in the name of those very arts, abominable acts are being presented which in reality is reprehensible. Parvati couldn’t take it but she has no answer either. She mulled over it for five days and six nights and concluded that it was beyond her to fix this world. As a result, she made a point of earning money, lots of it, and save it in the bank.

At the Asram, Pantulu garu continued his work, in the face of great opposition, humiliation, and public censure. There were three women in the Asram. For some inexplicable reason, the number 3 became somewhat permanent. Sometimes, one woman would leave and immediately another woman would show up at his door. One way or another the number became steady like the three gunas.[34]

We all live in this world but the levels vary. Remember Sri Sri’s[35] poem? “Can we  call this life?More like that of a dog, fox, and the lowest of the low life, pigs? Where is this frustration coming from?”  There is nothing wrong in hoping for a better life; it’s just not possible.

Sita was racking her brains. She might not be expressing in the same language as Sri Sri but it was close. She was totally disgusted with her life after visiting Madhavidevi and talking to her. She was not sure what she could do either. Her body has been decaying through and through. She was even feeling guilty to breastfeed her baby for fear of spreading her diseases. She decided that the baby did not belong with her, should give him away for his own sake. Sita has some writing skills. She scribbled a little note explaining her reasons for abandoning the baby and hung it round his neck. Next morning, while it was still dark, she fed the baby and set out to leave. She walked and walked and finally arrived at Madhavidevi’s house. She spread a sheet on the front porch, made sure that it was soft and comfortable, and put him on the sheet. The baby was smiling in his sleep.

Sita’s face showed no emotion. Once, just once, she held him to her breasts, kissed him to her heart’s content and laid him on the sheet gently. Then she fled from the scene. The baby woke up and started crying. The entire population of mothers felt a jab in the pits of their stomachs in that moment.

The sun was rising slowly. Madhavidevi came out, saw the baby and read the note. She rushed back into the house, woke up her husband, and sent him out to look for Sita… Two days passed by. Madhavidevi turned the baby over to an orphanage. The same day a woman’s body was found in the river Krishna. That was Sita.

Pantulu garu wrote a long letter to Parvati.

Dear Parvati,

I have come to the conclusion that we cannot save the world. I am getting old. The younger generation has to continue this work but I cannot do this anymore.

The Asram is looking like a club. It is not clear any more whether the gentle folks in town were coming to visit the Asram or the women. One such visitor eloped with one of the women; another woman went back to the brothel house; and the third woman killed herself. At present there are no women in the Asram. Therefore I closed it down. I am planning to go on a pilgrimage.

The issue of man-woman relationship originated the same day the world was created. Today, the issue is like a huge whale gobbling up our society. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one to see that. That is why I am jeered at and looked at as the laughingstock of the town. Now I know prostituting one’s soul is worse than attempting to close down brothel houses.

Once a person has a desire, he or she would resort to whatever method to satisfy that desire. As long as there is a desire the conditions to satisfy that desire also continue to exist. The first thing we need to do is working on the transformation of the soul. The proper setting for ideals is the heart itself. What need to be rooted out are the wicked thoughts in a person’s heart. I don’t know how that is possible though. That is the reason I decided to let go of it and move on. The only good thing I did in my life is to create you. If we could bring about a change in the hearts of people we can help them better persons. The truth is I don’t know how to change the hearts of people. You may never see me, or hear from me again.

I just want to tell you one thing though. Man is like a kite and the woman is like a water bubble. You keep that in your mind always and take care of yourself.

Your uncle[36]



Parvati read the letter and sighed. She saw the kites in the sky and the water bubbles on the ground. The kites were flying freely in the sky and the water bubbles on the ground were popping up. Parvati closed her eyes in fear.


Suseela decided to return to Madras and Anasuya decided to go along with her. The life in Madras appeared to be more attractive. Suseela came to Vijayawada in search of a better life. She realized that in Madras she had a status at the least as a “junior artist”. In Vijayawada, all she has is just the life of street girl. She was disgusted and decided to go back. On her return trip, she took Anasuya also, or rather, Anasuya followed her of her own free will.

Suseela and Anasuya rented a filthy room on a narrow lane in Teynampet. They went to an extra-supplier (agent), and got their names registered. There is really no register as such. Their names are on the list, so to speak.

A week went by. Most of the money Anasuya had was gone. She started feeling like a wick lamp as opposed to a blazing torch Suseela appeard to be. She was losing heart and beginning to believe that life was the same no matter where she went. At that moment, the extra-supplier, Sanga Rao, came and took them to a movie studio. Anasuya was stunned to see the studio. It was like heaven.

By the time she was finished with her makeup, it felt like her life has taken a huge turn for good; the grass never looked more beautiful. Suseela told her that it was called ‘lawn’. She nearly lost her mind when she saw the set of the court of the Lord Indra[37], the divine king; the mansion was sensational with all the flowerbeds. Anasuya was a maid on the set and she got to stand next to the greatest star on earth, Pushpavati. She was totally flipped. She always had such a great admiration for the star, Pushpavati. This moment alone was worth missing a few meals as far as she was concerned.

There was however one thing that bothered her. The entire crew were waiting hand and foot on Pushpavati and treating the extras at the same time like they didn’t exist at all.

The shooting started. Pushpavati was dancing on the stage in the court of Indra. The entire court fell silent but for the ankle bells of the dancer. The dance was exquisite. Anasuya felt ashamed for trying to compare herself to that extraordinary artist. She did not have that kind of talent; she was only a streetwalker. Her heart burst like a bubble. Why couldn’t she be like Pushpavati? How could God be so unkind? She had to sell her body simply because she had no talent of any kind had no other way to earn a living But, to what extent it was her fault? Was it her fault at all? There are no answers to such questions.

These ill-fated women would not leave Madras just for these momentary pleasures. They won’t leave the city even if it meant starving to death. Their withered lives could take comfort for a few minutes on these movie sets. After the shooting was over they would leave those cheap clothes and walk out feeling like they were looking into an enlarged picture of their own deplorable lives an expert photographer was holding up for them to see. What other choice they have? They do have to live somehow.

Anasuya was standing in Pandi bazaar under a tree since five in the evening and now it was ten. She was getting tired; tired of standing for what seemed like an eternity. Not one person would look at her. The other women, better looking and better dressed were walking back and forth pretending to be busy. The people in the area were familiar with this scene and so paid no attention to them.

“Where are you from?” Anasuya heard somebody yell at her in Tamil. She turned around and saw two policemen standing there. She did not understand what he said.

“What?” she asked in Telugu.

“I see, a Telugu chick! I am asking you, where is your house?” he said in Telugu callously.

Anasuya was scared.

“Why are you here? Looking for business? It is past ten. You might as well go home,” he said.

Anasuya turned around to go home. As she was leaving she heard the policeman say, “Most of these women are from Telugu area. This business is getting worse, by the minute,” and a laugh.

Anasuya dragged herself home. Suseela was already home, was sleeping. Anasuya did not eat all day. She fille her stomach with water and went to bed.

Next day, Suseela pulled out a crepe silk saree from the bottom of her suitcase and wore it. She invited Anasuya to go with her. They both went and stood in front of a movie company in Vadapalani.

It was a new movie company. The owner’s name was Surya Rao. His adoptive mother suddenly died leaving him some 60,000 rupees. A fiction writer, Chukkasri, sweet-talked Surya Rao into moving to Madras and opening a movie company. They rented a small house for one hundred rupees per month, paid ten rupees and got a sign made “Sri Yassaar films”; ‘Sri’ stood for Chukkasri, and ‘Yassaar’ for S.R., Surya Rao’s initials.


Surya Rao and Chukkasri started advertising in the newspapers. The name of the movie they were going to make was “Subbarayudu Shashti”. The advertisements caught the attention of the extra-suppliers and the stars. Surya Rao was jubilant. He recalled the days when he had to beg his grandma for a quarter to go to the movies which featured the very stars who were lining up at his door now. He would never forget that he owed all this to Chukkasri. He was amazed at Chukkasri’s talent.

Suseela heard about this new company through the spies of the movie industry and set out to meet them touting her pipe. The new company was in the process of casting. Suseela and Anasuya were hoping to earn a few rupees, with any luck that is.

Anasuya and Suseela went in. Suseela noticed that a third person was present in the room, besides Subba Rao and Chukkasri. Suseela cringed uneasily. The third person was Murti, a third rate movie critic, who makes or mars the careers of stars based on his whims. He could present a cheap trash as an upright honest woman without a blemish, or, trash a high calibre star in a snap. Suseela recalled the time when he promised her a role in a movie and took advantage of her without any reward. Yet she was polite to him.

“Hello, Murti garu, long time,” Suseela said.

Murti was pleased with her timing. “Hello, Suseela devi garu[38], good morning,” Murti said, and turned to Subba Rao, “Subba Rao garu, I forgot to mention. Her name is Suseela devi, a well-known movie star.”

Subba Rao recalled all the movies he had seen and was wondering where if at all had he seen this “well-known” movie star.

Murti wanted to make the best of the opportunity. “Suseela devi garu, this gentleman, Mr. Subba Rao, is sworn to bring about a significant change in the movie industry and this gentleman, Chukkasri, is the script writer for the movie they are going to make. He is a great writer, published several stories that would fit on a post card in prominent movie magazines like Chitragupta and Mohini. He also sends questions to the editors of all the magazines regularly on a monthly basis. His full name is Chukkeswara Rao.”

Suseela was nervous. She came there for the same purpose as the others. However she couldn’t help feeling sorry for Subba Rao and Chukkasri. She looked at the them once and she knew they were cornered by an owl. Anasuya was impressed, felt even a little jealous, that Suseela had so much clout with all these people in the industry. Her respect for Suseela rose to a new level.

They all sat down. Murti yelled to the server, “Hey, boy, bring five cups of coffee,” he ordered as if it were his home.

While they were sipping coffee and chatting, the extra supplier, Sanga Rao, showed up suddenly from nowhere. He looked at Suseela peevishly as he walked in. He did not appreciate the fact that Suseela took the initiative without his express permission; that was not right per his rules. Sanga Rao was the emperor Czar, short of a crown, in the world of extras. He would never forgive anybody who would attempt to get a role without his consent.

Suseela’s spirits were sagging by the minute. She quickly finished the coffee, took leave of Subba Rao and left along with Anasuya.

Murti knew why Suseela left in such a hurry. He burst out into a big laugh. Sanga Rao also laughed, followed Suseela into the street and caught up with her.

“So, you decided to become a great star?” he said watching her like a hawk.

Suseela did not reply.

Sanga Rao ogled like a wolf. “You had better behave,” he said and walked away in big strides.

Anasuya was confused. Earlier Suseela was so confident and seemed to be in control. Now suddenly she turned into a kitten. Why this sudden change? They walked a few yards and ran into the tailor who made clothes for the stars at a movie studio.

The tailor saw them, “A new hussy, ha?” he said to Suseela and winked roguishly.

Thanks to the tailor Suseela was herself again. She coaxed Anasuya into going with him and managed to squeeze a couple of rupees from the tailor in the process. She spent a quarter of a rupee and bought a cup of tea. By the end of the day life was beautiful to both Anasuya and Suseela.

In the same lousy complex where Suseela and Anasuya were living a Malayalee nurse, Premi, and an Anglo-Indian woman, Miss. Jeannie also rented rooms. Premi has a husband and children. Anasuya was surprised that Premi was talking with Jeannie in English. Suseela explained that Premi has learned English while working for an English family. “Just the same way we are learning Tamil here,” she said.

Anasuya still couldn’t believe it. Learning Tamil was no big deal but English? She was not exactly a qualified nurse. Her duties included janitorial services in addition to nursing. Premi was earning twenty five rupees per month, yet, wore expensive clothes. She paid six rupees rent which leaves only twenty four rupees for all other expenses? Where was the money coming from for all those expensive sarees? It was beyond her comprehension—how Premi could manage all that on her meager income? She asked Suseela. Suseela laughed so loud it could have put a hole in the roof.

“You are so naïve, I am sure you are one of a kind. You think she is a saint, don’t you? She makes money like the rest of us.”

“What about her husband? Would he let her?” Anasuya expressed her doubt.

“Why not? She has a job for the sake of appearances, a kind of cover. The only difference is she would not make it as obvious as we do,” Suseela explained.

Anasuya couldn’t understand what kind of a man would sleep with Premi. She looks like a skeleton. Suseela has an explanation for that too. “She is a Malayalee,” and whispered something in her ear.

“THAT is the secret,” Suseela said with a grimace, “Does that mean we should too?”

“Oh, hell, no. We have to have some values, you know,” Suseela snarled.

Anasuya was perplexed. It didn’t make any sense at all. They all were prostitutes and that was the truth. What values? What’s she talking about?


Jeannie cannot stand it if anybody calls her Jeannie under any circumstance. She insists on being called Miss. Jeannie. If by any chance someone says, “Jeannie,” even by mistake, she jumps out of her skin and start cursing not only that one person but the entire complex and that too in English. She would say that Indians lack manners, are short on etiquette, and calls them ‘niggers’, ‘beggars’, or other similar terminology. She firmly believed that she belonged to the great Anglo-Saxon race and the blood running in her veins was the purest.

Jeannie’s grandmother was born to an English man and a Turkish woman. She married a Hindu Christian. Their daughter, Jeannie’s mother, was married to a Tamil Nayar. So what? As far as Jeannie was concerned, her maternal great grandfather was hundred percent English man. That was reason enough for her to look down on Indians and India. She was convinced that she ended up in this morbid country because of her bad luck and that some duke was waiting round the corner to fall in love with her, marry her, and make a duchess of her. At present she has no relatives. Her old mother died a couple of years ago. Jeannie did not go to school but heard about the land of her forefathers and the English traditions from her mother. Her mother heard these things from her mother. That was not all. Since she believed that her mother’s race was classier than her father’s she has learned to respect her mother more. Her father was working as a conductor on the tramcars (a mode of city transportation running on electricity in Madras). Eventually the tramcars were terminated and so was her father. He died recently.

eannie has learned to make a living on her own early in life. It is common knowledge that the moral values of the Anglo-Indians are of dubious distinction. In addition, when a person has no other family things get worse. Usually, such persons settle down in low-paid jobs such as nursing, stenography, or sales. Such jobs do not pay enough, not enough, for their nail polish and facial makeup. Therefore they  resort to prostitution necessarily.

Miss Jeannie’s lifestyle was not any different from others in the building. During the day she wears a dirty skirt, nibbles on a piece of stale bread from a porcelain plate using her spoon and fork, the odds and pieces from her mother’s time. She makes a thirty-minute chore of it and makes big noise so the neighbors would know that she was using a fork and a spoon. Whenever she sees her neighbors eating with hand she would not let go without commenting on the filthy habits of Indians.

She starts dressing up about five in the evening. She washes her face, hands, and her legs with the cheap soap bought in China bazaar. Anasuya never saw Jeannie take a shower in the past one month. Rest of Jeannie’s preparation to go out comprises of: combing her hair, wearing a net, applying a half-inch thick layer of powder to her face, hands and legs, and wearing lipstick. She wears the same red frock she has been wearing for the past 15 days, wears a cheap pearl chain in her neck, and puts on a pair of tattered canvas boots. That is her make up to sell her body and make a living. On better days, she might make about six annas. Sometimes, she may not get even that much. On rare occasions, she could see a couple of rupees.

Jeannie is crazy about movies. She has a free pass for all the movies in all the theaters. After the movie started she goes to the gatekeeper. Both of them would go into the bathroom. After ten minutes or so, they’d come out and she takes a seat in the movie theater feeling like a royalty and gets to watch the movie. She watches the young English men and women dance and their heroic deeds; imagines herself to be that heroine, and as being rescued by the hero and so on. Usually the gatekeepers at the movie theaters are her patrons. They even pay her one or two annas.

Jeannie saw skinny Premi sitting with a man in the upper class which cost a rupee and a half ticket. How could she do that? Is she more beautiful than I? She convinced herself that Premi fooled those naïve villagers who came for check ups, and returned to watching the movie. Suseela and Anasuya were also watching the same movie sitting in the mid-range class, six anna tickets.

The movie started. Jeannie saw Premi taking ten rupees from the man with bushy moustache. The gatekeeper came in and told her that if she stayed for the second show and spent sometime with his friend, she would make no less than a half rupee (eight annas), he assured her. Jeannie did not see which way Premi went. Anasuya and Suseela were disappointed that they did not get any business and were about to leave. A cop showed up and struck a deal with them, three rupees for the night.

Some women become prostitutes after all other efforts failed, all other means were closed to them. Some women become prostitutes out of arrogance. They all sell their bodies because they did not have any skills to make a living. Any woman in general seem to pawn her body either to fight poverty or because she was cheated or to avenge herself. The thoughts made Parvati recall the story of Pankajavati.


Pankajavati has a husband and four children. One night, they got into a fight about something. It started out as a minor bickering and soon turned into a storm. He slapped her. She was furious; opened the doors and walked out, without thinking straight. It was midnight and raining lightly. She went to a small tea stall and ordered a cup of tea. The server went in to bring tea. A gentleman a frequent visitor at her home also came into the teastall. He was drunk but was in his senses though. He sat next to Pankajavati and started chatting. Server brought tea.


“Not that tea. Here, try this,” he said, poured a peg from a horse brand bottle, and mixed with soda.

Pankajavati did not think twice; she chugged it in one gulp. Then she asked him, “Is it okay if I stay at your place for the night?”

That’s what he was looking for too. “Of course,” he said without giving much thought to the consequences. The alcohol in his blood wasn’t helping either.


She spent the rest of the night with him. She could not see that she was acting like that because she was angry with her husband.


The next morning the entire town has come to know about it. There was nothing the poor husband could say. She was the mother of his four children. She decided that it was his fault and kept quiet.




Parvati never stopped thinking about her goal in life. She even blamed herself for her failure. She could not see what other options she had. She received a letter from Kavi garu, husband of her aunt’s daughter. He was one of the foremost to kick when she was down on her knees. Now her status has improved, he was all praise for her. The letter was a request to help him in getting his foot in in the movie field. Parvati was not aware of the recent developments in his life nor his transformation. She sat on the sofa lost in a reverie.

“Madam, somebody is at the door for you,” the maid announced.

A woman was standing behind her. That was her childhood friend, Annapurna.

Parvati jumped to her feet, ran to Annapurna, and embraced her. She couldn’t contain herself for all the excitement she felt at the sight of her old friend.

“Annapurna, Where are you coming from? Are you married? Any children?” she poured milion questions.

Annapurna broke into tears. Parvati was stunned.

“What’s the matter? Why tears? Come on. Sit down first. Tell me everything,” she talked to her gently in an attempt to comfort her.


Life is same for the women who cherish moral values. They will have a husband, few children, a home, and such. Every ill-fated woman has a different story to tell. There could be any number of reasons for a woman’s life to go wrong. A woman with nothing special to brag about and no place to go might end up selling her body to make a living, and then, who could blame her? Even if we dismiss it as her karma to some extent, we still have to look to the world for the other part of the answer.


Annapurna told her story to Parvati.

“Parvati, I cried a lot after you ran away. After you left, my family found a nice bridegroom and arranged my marriage. That was also the beginning of a series of misfortunes. Just ten days before my wedding date my father’s sister died because of a snakebite. She and her husband had three children and plenty of money. My family did not want to let go of all that wealth. They canceled the earlier wedding plans and married me off to the widower, my uncle. He was 45 years old at the time, old enough to be my father. I have a distinct memory of he carrying me around when I was little. My only sweet memories of the times were the snacks they, my uncle and aunt, would bring us when they came to visit us. I am sure you know him too. Isn’t it horrible to marry a man of my father’s age. Besides I was very fond of my aunt. I was devastated that I would have to wear her sarees and tops; her son, just four days older than I, would be addressing me as ‘mom’. In fact, my parents would have married me to him if he were a couple of years older. I used to address him as bava. After this stupid marriage he refused to call me pinni and so my uncle was suspicious of us.


Parvati, you can imagine what a miserable life that was for me. On the nuptial night they shoved me into the room like a sacrificial lamb. Until then he used to call me ammadu (darling, little girl) and now I am his wife! That was really tough and spelled trouble for me. He concluded that I was not receptive to his advances simply because I was involved with his son. To be frank, I could not bring myself to wear my aunt’s jewelry and fill her place; to me, that was irreverent. But then who cares? My own parents did not see the quandary I was thrown into. The son noticed his father’s suspicions and disappeared without a trace. I don’t know, not even to this day, what happened of him. My problems took a turn for the worse. My uncle’s daughter would quote the story of Chitrangi and Sarangadhara[39] and say that her brother ran away because I was after him.

The old man used to beat me up all the time. I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up the ten ounces of gold and ten rupees that was all the wealth I possessed, walked four miles to the nearby railway station, got on the train, and reached Vijayawada. I rented a small room in a small neighborhood. My education being minimal, my job opportunities were severely limited, you know. All I know was to cook. I went around and finally found work as a cook in somebody’s house.


Soon enough, I realized that my youth was my enemy and so quit that job. The gold I brought with me was gone. Remember the man who got me the room earlier? He was aware that I belonged to higher caste and that I would not eat meat. He seemed to be a good person in appearance at least. Back home, nobody seemed to have cared about my running away; no sign that they ever made any attempt to find me…


I couldn’t find work, not even as a cook again. Of the remaining two sarees, I sold one and got six annas. I bought four idlis and a cup of coffee with the money. I had not eaten for four days and my stomach couldn’t keep it; I threw up. I was feeling dizzy. I managed to get back to my room somehow. I was falling behind in paying the rent; I owed two months’ rent. The landlady threw my things on to the street. I crashed on the sidewalk by the gutter. If I were a man, I would have slept on some patio. All I have now was the brass tumbler to sell. I sold it to a potter next door for three annas. It got me through that evening.

The next question was to find a place to sleep. I sat down in front of the same room I rented earlier. The landlady came out and yelled at me, not that it made any difference. I didn’t budge. In the middle of the night, I was so disgusted I wanted to kill myself. I didn’t have the strength in my legs even to get up and walk up to the river Krishna.


It was then, he came, the man, who got the room for me in the first place. He suggested I go with him. Probably, I would have second thoughts if circumstances were different. But now I am hardly in a position to think of anything. I agreed and followed him to Madras.


He took me to a house in Madras. There were three more women in that house and they all have the same stories to tell. He told me that the house belonged to one of his relatives. After a very long time, I had a hot water bath, it felt so good. He opened the closet and gave me a glasgoe saree and a plain top. I had a full meal with potato curry, lentil chutney, and onion soup. I slept on a clean spring bed with a ceiling fan on. I woke up in the morning and was surprised to see my face; it was so beautiful. In about four days, I got used to the comforts. I knew I was longing for snacks, twice a day, posh meals, and cozy lifestyle.


Fifteen days passed by. One day the landlady came to me. She started chatting and during the conversation dropped a line, “I can shower millions for you, if you like.” I didn’t understand her words.

“What do you mean you can shower millions for me,” I asked her. It took a while to see where she was going with it.

“If you are rich, you are chaste. There is no such thing as good and bad,” she said. Frankly, I was well aware that I was good for nothing. That was the beginning of my fall downhill.

“You too, Annapurna!” Parvati said. In that moment there was absolutely no difference between Parvati’s tone and that of Julius Ceasar when he said, “Thou too Brute,” after he was stabbed by Brutus.

“Yes, Parvati, I was, too. We are females, the weaker race; what else can we do? Anyways, that house was a high-class brothel house. From outside no one could tell that prostitution goes on inside. Usually, the high-class people come there. I lived like that for two years and earned close to five thousand rupees. Even a wanton woman could and does fall in love at some point, you know. Her love is in no way inferior to any other respectable woman. In fact, her love could be more sincere. I fell in love with an artist and we lived together for a while. You might loathe me for saying this. I was also in love with an attorney also at the same time. It got to a point I couldn’t live without seeing him not even for a minute. The artist did not know about this relationship.

That did not continue for long though. What can I say? It was my karma, I suppose. I was caught by the artist while I was in the attorney’s house. I walked into the living room casually one day only to find that the artist was waiting there for the attorney. The artist understood what was going on, cursed me, and left, enraged. The attorney felt he betrayed his friend and told me to leave. So I ended up on the streets again for about four months now.

I kept my five thousand rupees I’ve saved in the bank but could not access without the artist’s signature. I didn’t want to ask him. It was getting tough. To make the things worse, the landlord Sahasranamam threw me out.

“Why?” Parvati asked.

“I wasn’t feeling well, running temperature. He wanted me to entertain four men regardless of my health. He told me that the four hefty men were waiting for me, and, ‘no-show’ on my part would mean loss of forty rupees for him at the rate of ten rupees per person. Sahasranamam was in no mood to lose that kind of money. He was willing to send somebody else but those men phoned and asked for me specifically.”

“Phone?” Parvati asked, surprised.

“Yes, phone. Sahasranamam has a phone in his house. So also those men. I had been there earlier. They wanted me because I look like a family woman, innocent and fresh. They all were high-class men you know—a writer, a doctor, a movie producer, and a landlord. All of them were equally pros. That was why they all were hellbent on getting only me. Did you get the drift?”

“Go on, Annapurna, tell me everything. Please, don’t stop,” Parvati said.

“I hope you are not disgusted with me,” Annapurna said desperately.

“Of course not. You are telling me how horrible a woman’s life could be. You are narrating the living conditions of half the female population of the entire world. You are showing the stark realities to those who are happily singing, ‘woman’s life is dandy’. Annapurna, I wish I were a writer but I am not. I am an actor. I really would like to show to the world all the maladies that are consuming women’s lives. A man cannot appreciate the hardships a woman suffers. Only a woman could comprehend the depth of such atrocities. A female could do better justice to the subject than a male writer. Unfortunately, I am not a writer. Please, do not stop. I want to hear everything,” Parvati spoke in anguish.

“Yes. The four men insisted that they wanted only me. Know why? All the four honorable men are friends. They all have money, cars, and beautiful wives. Yet they want me once a month. Can you guess why, Parvati?” Annapurna hid her face in the cup of her two palms and cried for a few minutes, and then, continued.

“They have no shame. All the four sit there watching and cheering while one after another performs sexual acts on me.”

Parvati turned pale. The words were too much for her to take. “Is that true?” she asked faintly.

“Yes. It is true, Parvati. You cannot imagine the abominable lives of prostitutes. You may not be a writer. Still as long as you are willing to listen I can tell you the worst of our stories. Please, let me tell you. That gives me some comfort at the least,” she said, and started weeping again.

“Don’t cry, Annapurna, tell me everything. Do not hold back anything, not even the tiniest detail. Eliminating prostitution is one of my goals in life. I cannot accomplish my goal without learning its true nature. Pantulu garu and I started an Asram with the same goal but could not get far. I know only some of the stories but not all. Only you can fill me in on all forms of those wretched lives,” Parvati said, passionately.

“Well, on that particular day, I wasn’t feeling well and so I refused. As a result, I was thrown out by Sahasranamam. The world changes only when the mentality of men changes. We cannot bring about a change in the society unless we change the attitude of men. Until then no matter how many Asrams are opened the result is the same. I know of a small organization, a vocational school, in Chengulput. There is something we can do, maybe very little still that is something. The women there are taught some skills and sent into the world only to be thrown back into the same situation by the way men treat them. The men in the outside world would not let them live honestly.”


Annapurna took a sip of water and continued her narration.


“I got up to leave when Sahasranamam told me to but he insisted that I could leave only after paying that forty rupees he would have earned if I had gone to those four men. He snatched away my clothes. Where could I go? I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I pulled myself together and went to those men and satisfied their desires. That caused my temperature to go further up, 104 or something. Then there was another problem. There was a wealthy Chettiar who liked women when they were running high temperature. He would pay one hundred rupees if such a woman was supplied. Usually, we do not get sick and that was a disappointment to Sahasranamam. Now he saw an opportunity to make more money, considered it a blessing, for himself and the Chettiar. That day, the Chettiar ravished me like a raven.


Parvati, I am telling you, you cannot even begin to comprehend these sadists and their perversities. There was another European customer. He would bring six pounds of ice, cool down our bodies with that ice, and then, enjoy sex with us. Next day, that poor woman would be sure to get fever. Then, the Chettiar would show up for his turn. The European was secretive about his acts though. There was a contractor, who took pleasure in having sex with three women at the same time, and so, would bring along an actor with him. I’m sorry, I cannot describe anymore. Let me tell you, the worst was yet to come.  A priest also used to visit us. He would bring the jewelry and costumes of the Goddess, and makes a woman dress up like the Goddess in the temple, sitting with one leg tucked under and the other let down, raising one hand in‘abhaya mudra’[40] and holding a flower with the other hand. He would stare at the woman for a few minutes and then pounce upon her like a hungry lion. I cannot understand his frame of mind at all.”

“That is not all. The problem of diseases is another story. Your heart would break even at the mere thought of those diseases. Do you know men afflicted with tuberculosis or leprosy also would come to us. The funny part is, the wife of a leper can seek and get a divorce in a snap. The same leper can pay a few rupees and get a prostitute. Normally, no prostitute lives long, ten years at most. After ten years, she may be alive but she’d be living with a disfigured face and on a sidewalk. Not one of them could speak clearly; none of them would be in good health. Their faces would bear the marks of all the pain and suffering in the world. Yet they all do want to live even when it meant living hell. Maybe the world would not let them live in any other way. Parvati, I am one of those dreadful people. Recently, I saw one of your movies and I recognized you, the famous actor, as my childhood friend. Listen. I will cook for you. All I am asking is a little food and a roof over my head. I cannot live this wretched life anymore,” Annapurna broke into heartbreaking sobs.

Parvati sighed. “Annapurna, you’ve at least realized that it’s a wretched life. There are lot of women out there that will not even accept that it is a horrible life. I am not sure what is the cure for this abominable disease. Please, do stay with me. I will be happy to have you here,” she said.




Dasaraj films was shooting a movie in Aswani studio. Parvati was playing the heroine. During the break, she was reading a popular weekly magazine, Andhra Sobha. She saw an article written by a famous female writer, Madhavidevi. Parvati pays special attention to Madhavidevi’s articles. While she was reading the article, something occurred to her. She felt like she found a way to accomplish her mission. She was so absorbed in the article she did not even hear the call to return to the set.

Kandhar, the music director, came to her and reminded her that it was time for her to return to the set.

He saw the magazine in her hand and asked her, “What is it? Seems like it’s gotten to you.”

“You should read this. We’ll talk about it later,” she said, hurrying toward the set.

After the shooting, Parvati came back.

“I read it,” Kandhar said.

“So, what do you think of it?”

“Well, it is written by Madhavidevi. No question it is written very well. I used to think that Madhavidevi was a pseudonym of some male writer[41]. Later, I happened to meet her. We even considered her while we were looking for writers for this movie.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Well, you know. The movie producers do not pay writers like they do for actors. For Madhavidevi, it would not be easy either to move with the entire family to Madras for the duration of the movie. Probably, that is not the real reason. The producers hesitate to use writers who have no experience at movie scripts.”

“Do you have her address?”

“Yes, I do. Wait, wow! Look who is coming. That is her, Madhavidevi!” Kandhar stood up ardently.

A woman, in her mid-twenties, walked in like the very incarnation of Saradadevi (the Goddess of Learning)[42]. She was wearing a white saree, white top, jasmine flowers in her hair, a pearl necklace, and ivory bracelets. By her side, Hareswara Rao, the studio owner, was walking. They both came straight to Parvati and Kandhar.

“She..” Hareswara Rao turned to Madhavidevi, by way of introduction.

“I know, the most famous actress, Parvati devi,” Madhavidevi said.

He turned to Parvati, and said, “She…”

“I know, the most famous writer, Madhavidevi,” Parvati said.

They all noticed that the introductions were unnecessary and laughed.

“For me, knowing you is no big deal. The entire world has seen you on the screen. But, how could you have known me?” Madhavidevi asked Parvati.

“I know you. In fact, I was just asking Kandhar for your address and here you are! I liked your article in the current issue. You wrote as if you have seen it yourself. How did you know all those details?”

“I saw them. I visited a brothelhouse in Vijayawada, Rajamma’s, pretending to be a buyer for her property. Rest of it, I guessed.”

“You went to Rajamma’s house? Did you see a woman named Sita?”

“Yes. How do you know Sita? Poor thing, died. She left her baby at my door and killed herself. I put the baby in an orphanage. They did not take good care of him; he developed a liver problem. That is the reason I am here. I brought the boy to have him checked here in Madras. I need Hareswara Rao’s recommendation to admit him in the hospital. I have a son at home about the same age,” Madhavidevi heaved a sigh.

“Sita died? Poor thing. Probably the child is better off under your care…”

The group around them were listening to them curiously. Suddenly, there was some clamor among the extras. The women under the tree went into a flutter. One of them fainted. Somebody sprinkled some cold water on her face and another brought coffee and fed her. That woman was Anasuya. She has not eaten for over four days.

The production manager phoned the doctor. The doctor came, checked her, and gave the worst possible news. He said that she was suffering from a venereal disease, and tuberculosis. The truth is if he had checked the others, probably he would have found that half of the women there were suffering from at least one of those diseases.


Madhavidevi and Parvati hit it off right away. Parvati invited Madhavidevi to her place the following day. Madhavidevi was able to admit Sita’s baby in a hospital, thanks to Hareswara Rao.

Next day, Madhavidevi came to Parvati’s home in her car and picked her up. At the Gemini theater, the car was out of gasoline. They went to a gas station, and while filling the gas tank, they saw two cops escort an Anglo-Indian woman. That was Jeannie. She did not do anything wrong. She was starving for over four days. She went into a public latrine with a rickshaw driver. The government would not do a damn thing about her starvation but now they were ready to throw her in jail because she was trying to earn a little money the only way she could. Probably that was okay too. She would get something to eat at the jail at the least. Jeannie was cursing them in English, and Madhavidevi could understand her story, from her ranting. Jeannie was sobbing in between her fiery expletives. She said that the Indians were sadly lacking in manners, commonsense, and etiquette. Jeannie’s face was looking beat up; she felt her legs so light she could hardly stay on the ground. “You slut, shut up,” said one of the cops, beating her with his baton. She fell on the ground but did not stop her tirade.

The scene shook Madhavidevi and touched the inmost corners of her heart. They finished filling the gas tank and left.

Sometimes, an ordinary incident could spark a good deed or pave the way for a great movement. The arrest of the ill-fated woman, Jeannie, created havoc in the heart of Madhavidevi.

Parvati and Madhavidevi sat in the sofa facing each other. Annapurna brought coffee for both of them.

“Come, sit down. She is Madhavidevi,” Parvati said to Annapurna, extending a hearty invitation.

Annapurna also sat down with a cup of coffee and said, “Madhavidevi garu, I am one of your fans. You depict the life as it is, that is your forte.”

“You are saying as if it is a good point. Many people abhor that quality in me. My brother especially tells me that I am not writing like a woman. He says such writing is unbecoming a family woman.”

“Those who cannot write like that probably are scared of those who could. They discourage others who are capable of depicting life as it is.”

“I can’t say that my brother belongs in that category. In fact, he has been supportive of my creating efforts from the very beginning. He is also a writer. He says, he transferred his creative skills to me and thus did the literature a great service.”

“Are you saying that you are the great sculpture created by your brother?” Parvati commented, with a little laugh.

“You are talking as if you are delivering a dialogue on the set, Parvati garu. My brother put me at the top of the list of all the worthless people in the entire world. He might even be thinking that he was embarrassed to claim me as his sister. I am not sure though. He is ruffled that I am not thinking like a woman, nor writing like a woman.”

“Madhavidevi garu, I am begging for a favor from you. Will you please consider it?” Parvati asked her.


“It seems the movies and Sarat novels have gotten to you[43]. I am a poor writer. All I have is my pen. Yet, I am struggling for two square meals a day. If you are asking something that is within my means I will be happy to do it.”

“It is within your means. I am asking for the use of your pen, Madhavidevi garu. I can’t tell you how much I regret every minute of my life that I am not a writer.”

“Don’t you worry about it. I am not all that excited for being one. After all, we do have to take care of our families too. In our country, even Saraswatidevi cannot live on the earnings from creative writing if you ask me. There is absolutely no reason for you to regret that you are not a writer.”

“I am serious. I am asking you in all earnestness. Do you remember the incident at the gas station? What do you think of that?”

As soon as she heard those words, a dark shade spread over Madhavidevi’s face.

“What is there to think? We see millions of such incidents every day, every minute.”

“You see them and keep quiet? If you and I and the world, if we all look away and ignore it, what is the way out for those poor women?”

“I understand your concern, but you know, Fruits from a tree will not fall for chanting mantras.[44] There is a book on prostitution in Russian language, translated into almost all the languages of the world. At the time of its original publication the emperor Czar banned it. The book came into light after a few years but there is no indication that the prostitution has decreased. In the past, government used to issue green ticket to prostitutes. That custom is gone but there is no significant change in the lives of women. As long as the public believes that money showers like rain in exchange for woman’s chastity,” Madhavidevi said.

“That is not right. You have to put our lives in front of the world and show them in all its depravity. Only you can comprehend how heinous our lives have become, because you are also a woman. One half of the female population of the world are living rotten lives. You have a responsibility at the least to let them beware that they are living rotten lives,” Annapurna spoke, passionately.

“Did you say ‘our lives’? Do you mean..”

“Yes. I was one of them. I can give you just for the asking all the gory details, the monstrous ways we are forced to live. Even if one reader turns her life around because of your writing I would say it’s worth your time. Just tell me you will write,” Annapurna said.

“Madhavidevi garu, probably you have heard about the Asram, Pantulu garu and I started, and also, that it turned out to be a fiasco. Uncle Pantulu garu wrote to me that the change should come in the hearts of individuals. I also have come to the same conclusion. One movie can bring about the kind of change that a hundred thousand Asrams and a million reformation schools cannot accomplish. The censor board will not permit us to make a movie on this subject but a book can do the same job. A writer can write a book. We know the writers are unacknowledged despots[45]. You have the freedom to present boldly the stark reality of the lives of the prostitutes. I will take care of the publishing costs and pay you five thousand rupees towards compensation,” Parvati said, passionately.

“This issue has been pestering me too. I was scared earlier to write about these things because I was a woman. Now, I have your support I will get on to it right away. However, you do have to take care of the production costs. Like you said even if one person changes her way of life because of the book, that is plenty of reward. I agree with you that the change should come in the hearts of individuals, and, a book can accomplish that; secondly, a movie can do that. This problem exists all over the world. The difference is only in nomenclature— whatever you call a woman—Sita, Suseela, Premi, or Jeannie, the problem remians the same. Whatever the location—Rajamma’s house, Sahasranamam’s building, or someone else’s mansion—the problem is the same; and all the men act the same, whatever their occupation is—a rickshaw driver, a leper, a family man, a police officer, a chettiar—all of them are the same, even the writer is a male. They all want a woman. They all circumambulate around this wicked mountain. If any one of them stopped for a second and looked at my book, that is enough for me. I would take it as a success. I would be proud that I was able to stop this unfortunate misery for a second. I am not going to expect anything more than that.

“I am leaving for Vijayawada tonight. I know that this monster is hanging over the town of Vijayawada like a huge tornado. I will start writing tomorrow. Jeannie’s cursing is still fresh in my mind. What an outpour of a story. She mouthed off so many names—skeletal Premi, Suseela, villager Anasuya, and so on. Who are all these people? They all are no other than the cancerous lumps on the body we call India. We have now the modern Anasuya and Arundhati in place of the great women of mythology, Anasuya and Arundhati.[46] I cannot think of anything more embarrassing. I will finish the book within a month. Parvati garu, good bye for now,” Madhavidevi spoke with the same fervor as the other two and got up.

Parvati and Annapurna were stunned at her zeal and eloquence. “That is her secret, that is the reason she is a remarkable writer,” Annapurna commented.


The weekly magazine, Andhra Sobha published the serial novel, “gali paDagalu- neeTi buDagalu” (The Kites and Water bubbles) and the novel created a sensation in the country. Our Telugu folks who usually forget everything the next minute are paying unusual attention to this particular novel. Many respectable gentlemen would walk up to the doors of prostitutes, think of the novel and stop at the door  for a second. Writer Madhavidevi expected only that much response.


Even those prostitutes who are a little educated are reading the novel and reflecting on their lives and drawing a deep sigh.

Within the first year the book went into two reprints. In a way, the book brought results higher than Madhavidevi’s expectations. Thanks to the novel, the policemen are paying more attention to their duty. Many brothel houses are shut down. Now, we don’t see women standing under trees on the way to the railway station. We can assume that the cancerous sores on the body of Vijayawada have been cleaned and dressed but the sore underneath is still there. As long as the change does not take place in the hearts of the humans this evil continues to exist.


Currently you can see this book in everybody’s hand. The name of the book is “gali padagalu- neeti budagalu”. … It is true. Their lives are also like kites and water bubbles!!




Translator’s note: Lata makes a powerful statement on prostitution, one of the malaises that is consuming the society in this novel. The author points out that the problem goes beyond geographic boundaries and economic issues. It is everywhere and in every form.]





(The novel, “gaali padagalu-neeti budagalu,” has been originally published in 1953 and went into several reprints. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, June 2002)


[1] Use of relational terms like, daughter, aunt, do not necessarily mean blood relationship. Lata is sarcastic about the way Rajamma and her husband are using the girls, for business.

[2] Dialectal variation.

[3] See glossary under relational terms.

[4] In the Hindu epic, Ramayana, the author, Valmiki, depicts Sita as an ideal, chaste woman, and Ravana, as the evil, demon king, who attempts to destroy her honor.

[5] A dialectal variation of names. See glossary under names.

[6] High paid government officials, also, called gazetted officers.

[7] The currency in pre-Independent India (1947) was in rupees and annas; 16 annas equalled one rupee. After 1947, India switched to decimal system, to rupees and paise. One 100 paise make one rupee.

[8] Warrior caste. See glossary for further comment on caste.

[9] Free medical facility, run by the government, for the poor.

[10] The narrator refers to this character only as Kavi, but gives no name.

[11] deream garal- dialectal variation, for dream girl; moyinee for Mohini, meaning the charmer.

[12] borothal aaktu corrupt form of ‘Brothel Act, introduced in post-Independent India, intended to eradicate prostitution

[13] See glossary.

[14] A typical, loosely hanging, outfit, Kavi garus in Andhra Pradesh, started wearing, in the later half of the 20th century. The outfit resembled Bengali outfit for men. Glasgoe is a translucent material, and, dhoti is a six-yard piece of plain material; no sowing involved.

[15] A neighborhood, close to movie industry, in Madras.

[16] A top ranking female movie star in the 1950s and 1960s

[17] A kind of aromatic root, matted into shades, and hung against windows, for cool breeze.

[18] Holy basil, a sacred plant for Hindus.

[19] A shopping mall, selling inexpensive items, in Madras.

[20] A traditional belief that a woman must be totally devoted to her husband.

[21] The name, Pantulu could refer to his caste/calling (teacher), or be the latter part of a given name. Lata includes ‘garu’ to show respect to his noble cause, despite the humiliation he was facing in the community.

[22] A well-known play, “Chintamani” portraying the prostitutes as a social evil, and destructive to family environment.

[23] Proverbial statement. Indra, the emperor in heaven, revels in music, and dance. Urvasi is divine damsel, entertaining, Indra, and other gods.

[24] In Telugu: eddu pundu kaakiki muddu/ruchi

[25] Traditionally, in Indian homes, a son-in-law receives royal treatment, a very special person. Usually, the families fear that annoying him spells trouble for the daughter.

[26] In Telugu: napunsakudanta manchivaadu ledu lokamlo.

[27] In Telugu: ayyavaarini cheyabothe, kothi ayinattu.

[28] Subba Rao is a common name in Andhra Pradesh, like William or Smith. Lata is referring to the multitude of poor and low-income persons. The narrator seem to imply that this Subba Rao has no character

[29] Traditionally, the bridegroom or his party should pay for tali, a small locket, the bride wears, starting from the day of marriage. Subba Rao was reluctant to incur that expenditure. For Sita, the entire idea of becoming a family woman was of great significance.

[30] A popular movie actor, known for playing self-righteous roles.

[31] Spicy cream of wheat.

[32] Government hospital, a free facility for the poor.

[33] A reference to a mythological story: A demon, prayed the Lord Siva, and obtained a boon, according to which, he would be indestructible, since, each drop of his blood, could create ten demons.

[34] According to Hindu philosophy, the three intrinsic qualities dormant in humans are satva-truth, tamas-ignorance and rajas-power.

[35] Sri Sri, (1910-1983) a prominent Telugu poet, known for his Marxist ideology. The original lines are “manadee oka brathukenaa? Kukkalavale, nakkalavale, pandulalo pandulavale… enduko ee asantrupti?”

[36] Not necessarily a blood relative.

[37] Indra was the emperor of the heaven in Hindu mythology.

[38] The terms, devi and garu, following her name in this instance, reflect Murti’s attempt to impress the producers, rather than his respect for Suseela.

[39] According to a popular legent, Chitrangi was a courtesan, who attempted to seduce her stepson, Sarangadhara; and, spurned by him, avenged herself, by ordering to cut off Sarangadhara’s legs. The narrator, in comparing Annapurna to a courtesan, is adding insult to injury.

[40] A hand gesture of giving protection.

[41] In the 1950s and 1960s, female writers were, extremely, popular in Andhra Pradesh, and, it was common knowledge, that male writers were using female pseudonyms, to get the attention of the publishers

[42] Sarada, Sarada devi, Saraswati—are all the names of Goddess of Learning, usually, associated with white.




[43] Madhavidevi’s light-hearted comment was a reference to the artificial language of the movies, and also the language that was popularized by a Bengali novelist, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. In the 1950s& 60s, translations of Sarat’s novels were very popular in Andhra Pradesh.

[44] A popular proverb, implying action, not words, is important In Telugu, manthalaku chintakaayalu raalavu.

[45] A common quotation, from Sanskrit literature: nirankuso kavayah.

[46] Two female characters from Hindu mythology, known for their chastity, and moral supremacy.

Tenneti Hemalata by Nidadavolu Malathi

In Andhra Pradesh, in nineteen fifties, Tenneti Hemalata, better known as Lata, entered the field of Telugu fiction with her novel, gaali padagalu, neeti budagalu. “I can proudly say I am the first sensational Woman Writer of the present age of Telugu literature,” she said in a letter addressed to me. (Personal correspondence, dated August 28, 1982).

Hemalata was born on November 15, 1935, in Vijayawada, to Nibhanupudi Visalakshi and Narayana Rao. In his book, Sahitilata, the author Anjaneya Sarma noted the year of birth as 1932 while Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy wrote in his article, chalaaniki Arunaaachalaaniki Madhya Lata noted it as 1935, which appeared in other sources as well. Her full given name was Janaki Rama Krishnaveni Hemalata.

She wrote about herself in Uhaagaanam 56, partly in jest, I suppose: “At the time God was making me, his hand must have needed rest. After resting for a while, probably he looked for clay to complete the form but did not find it and then he grabbed an aravinda flower and a bunch of flames available at hand, put them in me and turned the key on and let me to go to live the life I had received. But, Oh God, this flame is burning the delicacy of the flower.” (p.154).

Lata’s ancestors enjoyed a zamindari lifestyle, and Lata was raised as a favorite child in her family. Her father had inherited considerable wealth which he squandered on women, liquor and gambling. He also, it would appear, entertained literary gatherings at home. Lata spent most of her time with her father at these gatherings sporting liquor and literature. Her father used to offer her a sip from his drink occasionally, wrote Anjaneya Sarma. In her later years Lata was criticized by purists for her drinking habit, which she defended in her book, antarangachitram (1965). She wrote about liquor in her novels, not as a plausible habit, though. More on this subject later.

Her father died when she was 32. At the time, her mother was pregnant with her brother. Lata stated that, in deference to her father, she supported her little brother’s education with her income from writing. It is important to note that Lata was one of the few female writers to earn a substantial income from their writings in the sixties.

Lata lived an unusual lifestyle in many ways. At the age of nine, she was married to Tenneti Achyutaramayya, 16. Her husband’s incurable medical condition, two difficult deliveries, (first son in 1956 and the second in 1963, both cesarean) and financial troubles—all seemed to have given her rare insights into the perplexities and complexities of life. Against these insurmountable odds, it is no surprise that she had learned to take a good hard look at life and the meaning of life and develop a sardonic humor.

In her antarangacitram, [self-reflections], she talked about some of her struggles in life, which inspired her to write the stories. The book, antarangachitram itself  reads like a meandering stream of incoherent thoughts, confusing at times and profound at other, and records the pain she had suffered, and the questions she had been provoked to raise about life and god.

In this article, I will try to present my understanding of Lata and her writings against a backdrop of the little data available to me, and you may discern your own conclusions. Also, please note that I have not read the entire literature produced by Lata. That is beyond the scope of this article. I am recording only my impressions of her writings only from what I have read and/or known personally.

Lata studied extensively Telugu, Sanskrit and English classics at home. She started her career as an announcer at Vijayawada radio station in 1955 or 56. She took to acting while she was there, played notable roles in radio plays and on stage. She was also a singer and a staff writer of radio plays. In a letter addressed to me, Lata wrote “I have written 100 novels, 700 radio plays, 100 short stories, 10 stage dramas, 5 volumes of literary essays (Uhaagaanam), 2 volumes of literary criticism (Vishavruksha khandana, and Lata Ramayanam) and one volume of Lata vyasaalu, 25 charitra kandani chitra kathalu, poetry …”.  This letter was written in 1982. Possibly she had written a few more between 1982 and her death in 1997.

Her awards included: Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam in 1963, and an honorary doctorate [kalaaprapuurna] by Andhra University. She was honored as “Extraordinary woman” in 1981 by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. She was a member of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academy for over 20 years. She was “the only elected woman member to the academy”, She stated in her letter.

Ghatti Anjaneya Sarma, a mechanical engineer by profession and an avid reader of Lata’s writings, published a book, Sahitilata, in 1962, wherein he quoted profusely from letters she had received from highly reputable male writers and elite like Bucchibabu, Malladi Narasimha Sastry, Achanta Janakiram, B. Gopala Reddy and Toleti Kanakaraju.

Several writers and readers drew parallels between Lata’s characters and the characters in works by famous western writers like Hemingway, Shaw, Maugham, and C. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether one would be willing to accept these comparisons for what they are worth is beside the point. The fact remains renowned Telugu writers and critics noticed Lata’s talent and accepted her as a notable writer. And they wrote personal letters to her. An interesting factor worth mentioning here is she started receiving them within a decade since she started writing and publishing, which in itself is a tribute to her status as a writer.

Lata started her career as an announcer at the Vijayawada radio station. Soon after that, she started writing plays for the radio. Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy mentioned that her first radio play was silaahrudayam [stone heart] broadcast on Deccan Radio in 1952. Ghatti Anjaneya sarma stated that Lata’s first radio play was mahabhinishkramanam, [The Great Exodus], but did not give the date of broadcast. Regardless, the fact remains that Lata launched her literary career at a radio station.

By early nineteen thirties, Telugu fiction was gaining ground as a literary genre. The newly emerging story technique incorporated some elements of the earlier writing style; the stories were suffused with vestiges of Sanskrit poetic diction as well as the western story-writing technique. The Romantic poetry of the British writers like Robert Browning, Elizabeth Browning, Byron and Keats influenced Telugu fiction writers in the forties and fifties. And Lata, like several other writers, had read several books in English and was influenced by them. We see the effects of Lata’s avid reading in her writings.

Among other things, she also tried to write detective fiction, without success though. She admired Arudra and Kommuri Sambasiva Rao. She particularly wanted to write like Arudra. In her own words, her detective stories turned out more like propaganda material—the thief turned into a man of distinction and the detective into a thief by the time she finished it, as she put it.

Lata also tried to paint which again was not a success story. She realized fairly early that she had no talent for the brush. It is notable that later she compared writing to painting, and writer to a painter. She drew a clear distinction between photography and painting. In photography, you click the camera and it captures the scene as is. On the other hand, in painting, the artist adds with each stroke of his brush, a new meaning and a new perspective gradually.

Lata’s language is quixotic, awash with imagery and earthy at the same time, with heavy slang. It filled with metaphors, sensuous imagery, and even luxurious poetic verbosity at times. She was an admirer of famous singer and song-writer, Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. She wrote a few lyrics, for which Balamurali Krishna composed tunes. We find this musical quality in such books as antarangachitram and mohanavamsi, wherein separating the author from the work is impossible.

On another occasion, Lata lying on a hospital bed, while waiting for her second son to be born, she describes her thoughts as follows: “In this scanty life of mine, I have been through numerous experiences—hardships, tears, suffering, happiness, love, and duty; temptation and desire. While grappling with my life and financial problems—amidst all this—I would still travel in first class in airplanes, watching the beauty beyond description and ugliness beyond words—how many times I’ve seen it in this life? My life is small yet it is puffing up with my experiences, lightening and floating in the air like a balloon. Probably it will burst today.” (antarangachitram. p.13).

Her knack for imagery is amazing. Whether it is her sparkling enthusiasm for life or antipathy for the injustices in the society, it is always entrenched in a combination of sarcasm, sharp wit and uncanny humor.

Some of her convictions are a mix of tradition and innovation. Lata possesses a peculiar sense of the anomalies in life, which go beyond the bounds set by any single conviction. In some ways, she would fall right into the category of Telugu romantic/idealistic writers like Tallavajjhala Sivasankara Sastry, Devulapalli Krishnasastry, and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, to name but few. And in other instances, she is confrontational like Chalam and Ranganayakamma.

I believe that the anguish Lata had experienced in her personal life set her apart from many writers of her time. Her experiences or anguish defined her perception of life and her technique of storytelling. While other writers used the flowery language to describe their idealistic dreams, Lata used it to drive home the ruthless realities of life.

Lata believed in mystical somewhat platonic love. That is what we see in Mohanavamsi. She claimed that she was speaking in abstract terms in mohanavamsi; she was not Radha but the concept of Radha [p.106]. She further explained, “My Krishna is a human being. … My Krishna should not be an egotist … People may label me immoral, still I would have gone with him, defying all the familial ties. … I have made plenty of mistakes. Maybe I would stay away from these mistakes if my Krishna were human. … But my Krishna is anantanaariihrudayavarthi [One who wanders in the hearts of innumerable women]. … Extremely selfish… Am I jealous? No.. I am worried only about the selfishness incorporated with pain. … How can he be god if he knew only to take but not give? … He is good to be worshipped only without asking for returns. … Maybe I am worshipping him all the same. ..  The same thing happened for a second time. It was the fault of the circumstances. The same circumstances would call my love prostitution. … That is why I turned around and came home. ..But I set fire in that person’s heart before I returned. [antarangachitram. p.106].

Her usage of diction and metaphors are elusive even when she is speaking in a book, supposedly nonfiction, about herself. She barely draws a distinction between her fiction and her reality. An episode described in her antarangachitram, describes this ambiance in her perceptions. She wrote that a local businessman approached her for sex in a rather forthright and primitive fashion. At first, she was surprised; she teased him for a few minutes as was her wont, and then sent him away. She took the situation to make a categorical statement about the life on Vijayawada streets (which apparently was the reason for the man to approach her in that manner).

“In this Vijayawada city, this kind of requests and mediations is quite common. There is no evidence of any woman rejecting any man either. Underneath this scenario, money is dancing garishly. … In fact, that is the way the topography of Vijayawada—surrounded by the river and hills, and streams—they all make it a unique city in the entire state of Andhra Pradesh. I don’t think there is another city like this in the entire state. … And the people of Vijayawada are matchless in making the shorelines of these streams unbearably ugly. “The roads are always crowded. Most of the pillars of society in our town have amassed wealth by running brothel houses only. …. “The second problem in our city is the lorries. There are plenty of lorry drivers who stop them anywhere they please, crawl under the vehicles and fall asleep. … It is not an exaggeration to say that our roads are laid only for the purpose of those lorries and lorry drivers; they stop their lorries everywhere for repairs, and for others to die freely under those vehicles. …
On top of all this, there are brothel houses… in each corner of every street … They are referred to as “companies” respectfully. All these companies are invariably owned by women with rowdy protectors by their side. …”

I quoted this passage to highlight the fact that this account in her nonfiction book is a replica of her description of the Vijayawada streets in her novel, gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. This may be a simplistic example but I believe that it does point to the authenticity in her novels. She used the same setting and situations as she saw them in the life around her. She seemed to have put her heart and soul into her writings whether it is fiction or nonfiction.

Achanta Janakiram was one of her harshest critics to disapprove her style. Referring to his disapproval, Lata wrote, “He [Janakiram] was annoyed by my abrasive and candid language. But what I’ve written is the truth. He told me several times not to write like that. Probably he was repulsed by my gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu [Kites and Water Bubbles]. I don’t think he has forgiven me for that even after I had published Mohanavamsi and  Umar Khayyam. I heard that his nonfiction books, naa smrutipathamlo [Down my memorylane] and saaguthunna yatra [Journey in Progress] contain more poetry than actuality. In my opinion, Authenticity is more beautiful than poetry.”(antrangachitram. p. 147).

Lata claimed that, contrary to the public opinion, she was not writing about sex and there was no discussion of sex in her books except gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. She added that, “Even in that book, it was meant to cause disgust in the readers but not fondness. Whatever it is, there is plenty of falsehood in his [Janakiram’s] theory of beauty. And I resent falsehood.” (antrangachitram. p 147).

Contrary to her statement however, Lata did write another novel, raktapankam [Quagmire of Blood], on the same subject as gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. The second book is a longer version of the same story. The difference lies only in the event that instigated her to write. The basis for gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu was her observation of the brothel houses round the corner from her home in Vijayawada. For the second novel, raktapankam, the basis or inspiration was a stack of letters sent to her by a woman who actually lived the horrific life and requested Lata to write the story. The woman’s friend who brought the letters to Lata told her [Lata] that the friend (the main character in the story) was moved by Lata’s earlier novel, gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu [Kites and Water Bubbles, 1953], wanted to meet the author personally but could not. For that reason, the woman wrote her story in the form of letters addressed to Lata. And Lata decided to write this novel, defying the angry reprimands of several writers and critics. In the preface to the book, Lata said she had written as it was told in the letters, and changed very little.

Several critics compared her to Chalam for writing these novels. From my perspective, the comparison is not tenable. While the writers dealt with sex in their novels, their approach and their perceptions are distinctly different. Chalam’s views were rooted in his ideology and in that sense his novels were mono-directional. His characters are two dimensional. Readers will know nothing about the characters beyond their engagement in sex. In Lata’s novels, on the other hand, sex is only part of a bigger picture. Her characters are alive; they eat, talk to each other, have children, and worry about other things in their daily lives. Her stories tell us stories we all know, and raise questions we are confronted with on a daily basis. Her stories are closer to the life her readers could relate to. A word of caution. Chalam’s novels may not be out of this world but they are monolithic at best.

About the same time as the two novels mentioned above were published, Lata also started writing a series of feature articles in Andhra Prabha weekly, under the running title, Uhaagaanam [musings] from 1958 to 1963. Its success was unbelievable. Lata became a household name and the readership for the weekly magazine escalated immensely. In a way, it could be her salvation for writing gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. Earlier, I mentioned about the umpteen letters she had received from prominent writers and readers. I believe that Uhaagaanam convinced them that she was a gifted writer.

The volume I used for this article is a single volume containing 197 articles in 600 pages, and published in 1978. The publishers stated at the beginning that the book covered umpteen topics such as the poetry and the style of Rabindranath Tagore, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Tolstoy’s humanism, Maupassant’s love scheme, Krishnasastry’s heartening lyrics, social philosophy of Chalam, maro prapancam [Another World] of Sri Sri, and several others. Her selection included Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, English, translations of Russian and Persian writers and Vedic texts. She also drew on her experience in the movie industry and contacts she had developed  as a writer and actress (I think she acted only in one or two movies). (See her comments on acting noted earlier). The publishers also added that this book included all the issues of the entire world abundantly, and potent questions like: What does “society” mean? In what way the society is related to you?

Each article runs from two to five pages. Basically, the format is: Take a quote from a well-known book or a popular axiom, explain, comment, and describe one or two occurrences from everyday life we all are familiar with, and finish it with a brief recap. In these articles, Lata comes out as humorous, caustic, santarangachitramastic, ponderous and rambling incoherently at times. They captured a wide range of readership for that very assortment of topics. I, for one, was fascinated by all those quotes from the great books I’d never heard of, the wisdom they contained and the manner in which she illuminated a view or a thought. For me, it was the second best thing for not being able to read the originals.

In this weekly feature, she proved her abilities to put two seemingly incoherent situations in juxtaposition and hold them up for the readers to see the underlying commonality. In the process, she could be impulsive, pondering, confounding, ridiculous, and santarangachitramastic all in one breath.

For instance, in Uhaagaanam 129, Lata opens with a popular poem from the great epic, Maha Bhagavatam [The Story of Krishna] and goes on with her mystifying questions about God. Then she shifts the somberness to levity as she describes an event from everyday life. It is about a husband trying to learn to cook while his wife was out of town. He turns the radio on for instructions and the next few lines are just hilarious. He is unaware that the radio is broken and it is broadcasting two stations simultaneously.

The result is,
1. Add water to the dal. After it is cooked, … put your hands on your waist and take two feet forward.
–He did so per instructions.
2. Put a pan on the stove, add oil, … stand on one foot, look sideways playfully.
–He did that too.
3. Walk three feet poised, lean forward, smile… drop little lumps of dough in the hot oil.
–He followed the instructions.
4. Hop back three times …

As expected, the outcome is a disaster and he writes to the radio station that the instructions were messed up. My [Lata’s] point is, our lives and the universe are comparable to the two broadcasts. That is why I want to tell god that, “Look Mister, your management is hopeless. Why don’t you stop creating for a while. Then we all can have peace for some time.” But He is not listening and letting the Judgment Day happen. He hides in a corner, and keeps broadcasting two shows simultaneously and tells us to live the best we can. What has he got to lose?

The Uhaagaanam articles featured her humor on one level. At another level, she was also capable of initiating challenging dialogues among the elite on topics such as god, traditional values, and religion. On one occasion, she received a letter from an avowed nonbeliever, Tarakam, in which he stated that Lata’s convictions about god in one of her Uhaagaanam articles was out of character for her. Lata responded saying that they both (Tarakam and Lata) were on the same page since their objective was the same except for the terminology. “You are calling it Truth and I am calling it God,” she said. Then, another prominent writer, Bucchibabu, wrote to Lata further elaborating on various conjectures of the same subject. The fact that Lata was able to involve the elite of her times in a dialogue on critical matters speaks for her strength as a writer.

Her novel pathaviheena.(1971?) is about the disparity between woman’s chastity [pativratyam] and humanism. In the novel she discusses her views on pativratyam [wife’s unflinching devotion to her husband] and claims that, unlike in other countries, pativratyam is overrated in India.  She said she had received 7000 letters during the time the novel was being serialized in Andhra Prabha weekly.

In the same preface, she talked about another famous writer, [late] P. Sridevi (of kalaateeta vyaktulu fame) and added that Sridevi died because of a mistake she had made. The next comment of Lata is noteworthy. She said, “many people expected me to make the same mistake. But I am a devotee of beauty. …  That is not the reason I did not make the same mistake. I also have soul. …  I have not sacrificed my soul … I have desires … and part of it is mischievous like everybody else’s  … I am a writer but that does not mean I am not a woman.” [antharangachitram  p. 105]. This passage seems to indicate that Lata had her share of heartbreaks in real life. Secondly, I am not sure if her comment on Sridevi is tenable but then probably it is irrelevant here.  In her preface to this book, antharangacitram, Lata said she spoke only good things about her friends and left out bad things on purpose. Should we give her credit for being discrete? What does it say about her character? And about her sense of propriety and by default her wits? Why did she mention Sridevi at all?

This style of speaking in conundrums is rare in her novels. Beating around the bush is not her style. She was not afraid to take on any writer, male or female. One notable episode involving two prominent writers was about their versions of the great epic Ramayanam. Ranganayakamma, a reputable Marxist writer, wrote her version of the epic, entitled Ramayana Vishavruksham [Ramayana, the poisonous tree] rewriting the characters in a different light. Then, Lata published her version, Ramayana Vishavruksha Khandana, [Rebuttal of Ramayana Vishavruksham]. The two books created a huge commotion in Andhra Pradesh in the eighties polarizing readers, male and female, around each of these writers. Further discussion of this literary event is beyond the scope of this article but would suffice to say that Lata never hesitated to jump into the fray if occasion called for it.

Lata held strong views about acting and actresses. “I am not used to suggest even in acting,” she commented. She said she had to struggle a little when she had to play the wife of another man in a radio play but managed to go through with it. She refused firmly when she had to cry for her (stage) son. “I cannot cry, even in the name of acting, for a child while I have a son in real life.” She would not tolerate doubletalk in the name of art either.

She later had come to realize that “the obstacles for actors and actresses to act are only their own sentiments but not their family life.” (antarangacitram.  p.30-31). Woman remembers her duty to the society and family only after her profession as actress. On the other hand, she who aches for fame and to show off her well-formed figure while grappling with her own insecurities may shroud with morals like sugar-coated pills but can never be an actor. (antarangacitram. p.31).  “Actors and actresses who cannot pronounce aspirated sounds come to participate. No matter how many times Banda garu told them the phrase was avinaabhaavasambandham, [inseparable connection] they still say avi naa baava sambandam [that is my relationship with my cousin], … [We announcers] will have to put up with unbearable sounds in the name of classical music,” she commented. (antarangacitram. p.79).

Regarding the relationship between the writer and the writing also, Lata held unambiguous views. She said, “Usually a novelist will be guided not only by the society in which he is living but also by his own insights and conscience [antharyam]. Yet, his experiences, memories and the conclusions drawn from his experiences—all come together and create a common ground of acumen for him and the readers. It will act as telepathy or a telephone wire. That telepathy is the connection between a first rate writer and a well-informed reader. Additionally. An artist’s imagination may change the proportions and the form of the incident he had seen, rework on the connotation and the display. … All novels and musings depend on reality to some extent.

I will not accept that a great writer would write for entertainment or fame. He also would aim at making the life and his goal as well broader in perspective. There is nothing wrong if he uses his book as a moral sword in his attempt to achieve his goal. … I believe that there is no writing, never will be one, which is free of the author’s agitation. … A writer without talent is worse than ordinary person. Nowadays the ordinary person is turning into a writer, which is one more problem.

Once a friend showed two pictures of elephants to a great artist. Both the elephants were the pictures of angry elephants. The artist said, “this is great art since the sculptor  carved it with not only the trunk but also the tusk raised. The second one as ordinary and so there is nothing peculiar about it. There is no display of one’s perception. … If some brainless man called it [the first] as lacking in realism, that is his problem [antarangachitram. p.93-94].

Look at any Telugu novel that is not successful, you would notice only a series of aspirations, love, a couple’s movie dialogue, an overbearing gentleman, struggles in a rental property like in a display of dolls …    Life might be like a novel but a novel is never like a grocery store.   [98]

She categorically disapproved the pretensions of women who would blame their family life for their failures on stage. She said only second rate women actors live under the delusion that acting was immoral, while in fact the problem was their own lack of talent.

Lata covered a wide range of topics in her novels—harmony at individual or social level, underlying principles of caste, marriage, traditions in other parts of India, beliefs such as ghosts and predictions based on horoscopes, and so on. Here is then the main question: Can we find a common philosophy of Lata from these novels?

Her themes ranged from to streetwalkers, to ghosts, to imaginary coup by gods, to philosophical or theological debate. Lata explained in her prefaces the incidents that lead to her writing the novels. Each novel was inspired by either her own observation, a book by a famous writer or a brief conversation with another writer of repute. For instance, the much needed changes in society in tiragabadina devatalu,[Gods that rebelled] was based faintly on Time Machine of H. G. Wells, whose characters defy time, distance, and dimensions of life. Brahmana pilla [A Brahmin girl] is about reverse discrimination. She stated that she was not advocating restoration of brahmin superiority but highlighting the negative impact of the eradication of caste system on poor brahmins who needed help. Niharika is about the institution of marriage; she questions the acceptance of man having two wives but not woman having two wives in our society..

At the risk of digressing for a moment, I would like to comment on writers in general. Often the writers who write to advocate their ideological perceptions, are deeply rooted in their ideology. (Like Chalam, for instance). All their writings point solely to that one view. And then there are writers like Lata who take each topic and stay focused on that topic, attempting to present several angles of that one topic, offer a more balanced view of the topic and pose potent questions for readers to think. Chalam appealed to the elite and maybe readers fascinated by his portrayal of women’s sexuality. Lata reached out a much wider audience with her technique (which included humor, santarangachitramasm and plain talk) as well as her points of view.  Here are some of topics in her novels. Closer to home: Jeevanasravanti. Her father’s financial problems, his use of morphine and his lifestyle were the basis for this novel, she stated in her Antarangachitram (p.34). Mohanavamsi: Her personal journey.

Stories inspired by her readings and per perception of cultural values: Bhagavantudi pancaayati [God’s court] was inspired by a novel by Somerset Maugham. She said she took some of the characters Maugham had created. She understood only after reading Maugham, that the human nature is not the same as usual at the time of war. Wherever and whenever war happens, the result is always the same—bloodshed and death. In this novel, she depicted the Tibetan traditions, and environment at the Himalaya mountains. She also apologized for any topographical errors she might have made in regard to the area.

Dayyaalu levu? – “In general, I don’t believe in ghosts. Premchand wrote in his novel, Nora, that he believed in the theory of rebirth. Tagore expressed his belief in ghosts in his Hungry stones. Chellapilla Venkatasastry wrote that he believed in the grahas and had personally suffered from their displeasure. … The reason I am saying all this is, we may assume to be real what we are calling baseless fantasies and unreal. We have gotten
used to think that the things we don’t know don’t exist.” (preface )

On Religion and philosophy Edi Nityam [What is Eternal]? Tried to establish that humaneness is more important that religion.  It was about a woman writer, Radhamma, who was labeled a “prostitute” regardless she lived righteously. “In reality, I am partial to men; I support women. In this novel, Rajamma’s life is heartbreaking.”  This is a confusing statement. Is the word “men” in the first part a typo? She did mention about the typographical errors in her books. She quoted her husband saying that she became famous only because of the typos in her books.

Saptaswaraalu [The Seven Musical Notes] “Once I heard a story that supposed to have happened in a sanitarium in Mangalagiri. Some of the characters in the story resembled the characters in a story, “Sanitarium” by Maugham. Similarly, some of the incidents in Shaw’s Man and Superman. … “
Prominent composer-singer, Balamurali Krishna often mentions that the seven notes are the foundation for one’s spine, lyrical composition and the harmony in life. I have come to understand that life also reorganizes the notes and sometime strikes a discord and life is a stream of dissonance and harmony. A novelist has no choice but surrender to his own creation: he needs to forget his own existence and become the character in the course of creating each creator. The characters he created turn him into a puppet in their hands. In that play, he will need the help of the seven musical notes. We can’t say whether dance of destruction or eternal bliss is but it continues to agitate him to the end. This saptaswaraalu reflects that agitation of mine.

About Tulasivanam, Lata said prominent writer Gopichand and she were sipping coffee at a local coffee shop and listened to the story from a woman. Gopichand asked if Lata were interested in writing the story and Lata said he should write it. Eventually, Gopichand died without ever writing the story. Lata’s story explores the belief that tulasivanam is present wherever a woman is present. She takes her cue from a mythological character, Tulasi, wife of Jalandhara, who was a cruel demon king. Gods tried to kill him but to no avail. He was shielded by Tulasi’s pativratyam and invincible. The only way he could be killed was to seduce Tulasi. Therefore, Vishnu, pretending to be her husband, deprived her of  her moral code [pativratyam]. Later Vishnu granted her a boon; and she became a plant to be worshipped by women seeking exemplary life eternally. Now the question , it is true that money matters but is it justifiable to grow marijuana in a tulasi patch? Marijuana sedates the senses, numbs the conscience. It may provide a temporary solace but no  healthy remedy. Tulasi on the other hand has medicinal value, it is wholesome.”

Her experimental writing: Love stories. By her own admission, she wrote some sort of love stories like vaitariniteeram in the beginning. Later she divested herself of the western influence. But she wrote Vaitariniteeram in response to a suggestion from younger generation readers, who had gotten used to reading the novels by other female writers, who were lifting stories from Herald Robbins, Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon (Lata noted it as ‘Bouquet’ but I believe Boon is the correct word.). It was serialized in sowmya monthly. Lata said her characters lead her to the conclusion; they appear in her dreams and tell their stories. In the case of niharika [Mirage] it took a couple of months before the main character, Saradadevi told her the complete story. Within those two months, lying on bed in a nursing home, she had finished two more novels, bhagavantudi panchayati and Omar Khayam.

All the five novels carry the publication date of 1963. To me, writing five novels with a so wide range of themes is remarkable. Then the question is: In doing so, did she succeed in becoming an esteemed writer? I have no statistical data, but in view of her renown, I’d say yes, she remains an important writer of our times.

In a final note, I would like to quote Lata’s comments on contemporary female writers, that, “Many female writers are afraid that they’ll be forgotten if they don’t keep publishing but I don’t have any such fears,” she said. And to substantiate her belief in herself, I would like to quote a prolific, well-informed writer, J. K. Mohana Rao. After learning that she passed away, Mohana Rao wrote, “I am saddened to hear the demise of Tenneti HemaLATA. In the golden days, in the late fifties and early sixties, I was introduced to Lata through Andhra Prabha. She used to contribute a column called UhaagaanaM. It used to be down-to-earth and yet poetic. … I can call her a mix of Bucchi Babu and Chalam.

She fought for the one half of the oppressed in society, viz., the women. … She always used to write with a certain enchantment and elan that is not easy to surpass or imitate. Lata reminds me of my youth, my return to Telugu literature (particularly novels) after a break, and my rethinking about women, relationships and a sense of poetry in many activities of our daily lives.” I cannot think of a better tribute to a writer who took the world by the horns in the early nineteen fifties.


(Originally published on 9/23/2009 on https://thulika.net. Factual error corrected, 9/16/2013.)

Anjaneya Sarma, Ghatti. Sahitilata. Vijayawada: Sri Vani Prachuranaalayam. 1962.
Hemalata, Tenneti. antarangacitram. Vijayawada: Vamsi Prachuranalu, 1965.
Sriramachandra Murthy, Kondamudi. “Chalaaniki Arunaachalaaniki madhya Lata.” Andhrajyoti Sahitya vedika. Sunday
supplement. May 24, 1981.
Prefaces of the novels mentioned in the article.
Hemalata, Tenneti. Personal correspondence dated August 28, 1982.

Telugu women’s writing, 1950-1975 an analytical study by Nidadavolu Malathi.