Tag Archives: Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry

Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

The Window by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

O …n…e …o …n …e …

The old stick is going slowly one foot after another.

The hand, looking like a dried twig, is holding on to the worn out stick and going along with it.

The concrete road, flooded with the light from the street lamps, like muggu powder put out to dry, is receding at the same pace.


After moving on thus for sometime, the white powder put out to dry has turned into hardened tar.

The tar road, glistening like a dark cobra, also has retreated farther and farther to the back.

It stops for a second and rests.

How far yet to go?

Has to go past twenty more “elitry” lampposts from where the tar road meets the gravel road.

From there, it will have to turn left and walk eighty feet.

Past the twenty electric lampposts and the eighty-foot long gravel road, there is an old two-storey building on the left.

On the right, there is a house with clay-tiled roof, partly collapsed.

But for that old building, the entire area is lit with not electric lights or from any other  source. It is totally dark.

Not that there are no small houses and few gardens beyond those two houses across from each other. But the man holding the old stick with a withered hand has nothing to do with any of them.

He is going there only to sit in that part of the verandah that is still up in that run down house and watch.

He rests for a second, and starts walking again with difficulty and breathing heavily as if he is exhausted, and counting the lampposts.

The gravel road of twenty lampposts long has receded somehow. The old stick turns left.

Only eighty more feet to go.

There is no moon in the sky. No municipal lamps along the street. The glow from the stars is not enough for his eyes.

It is densely dark. A small breeze flurries by.

Despite the darkness, the cane knows its way very well. Despite the tiredness, the stick pushes the eighty steps to the back quickly and sighs.

There is the window!

Here is the verandah!

A part of the front porch of the clay-tiled-house is up still. Another part of the roof over the dark verandah in one corner is broken. The entire floor underneath is filled with dents in several places, almost everywhere. The remaining two stone pillars are lacking in flesh and blood. A mango tree standing outside with branches overhanging above the house. Scanty beams of light from the building across the street are spreading over the mango tree and the shattered part of the verandah.

The man sat down by the wall in the dark verandah, put down the stick, unloaded the weight from his shoulder and put it in front of him, and looked at the building.

There is the window, he could see.

Rest of the building is dark. Only the window is visible.

Faint glow from the stars, barely noticeable, is submerged in the shimmering darkness. The two-storey building in front and the row of palm trees behind are merged into the darkness hazily. Small stars are rising into the sky from the tops of the palm trees moving inconspicuously.

They all are shades, mere shadows. Even those stars, all of them, are lackluster stones sunk in darkness.

The only thing sparkling in that area and in that darkness is that window; radiating brilliantly.

Just one room upstairs in that building. Adjacent to it, there is a terrace same size as the room precisely. The place he sits is across from the wall that separates the room from the terrace. The room is to his left and the terrace to his right.

The room is not very big. The window located in the middle of the room is not small. There are no rods, either of steel or of any other material, attached to the window. The windowpanes are open. The window is glowing like a diamond in the light from behind.

It seems like somebody has cut out the part where the window is from a thick dark curtain and held a lamp up from behind for everybody to see. Some pious man has either slashed the curtain or  pushed it aside and created an opportunity for him to watch it, feel elated and enraptured by it each night.

Behind the curtain, it is all happiness.

All that he does not have, that he would like to have and he would wish everybody to have is behind that window. It is conspicuous from that window.

What is it that is behind that window?

Just only one room with whitewashed walls.

The person sitting in that darkness can see through that window—what are they?

–The electric lamp with a green glass shade hung by a wire in to the middle of the room , dazzlingly glowing light, a blue wall clock on a bracket on the wall in front, next to it a not big glass chest of drawers, two dark sandalwood statues set on the chest, between them two small colored marble statuettes—one that of Lakshmi and the other of Saraswati, a picture hung on the wall above the chest of drawers, in it a woman lying down and reading a book, above that a piece of a clay tile of the roof, in one corner, the end of a bed frame to which mosquito curtain is tied, and a sofa suitable for one close to the window.

Because not all these items are perceptible clearly to him through that window, they are that much more fascinating to him.

In that room,

Those two persons are!

Only two of them!


A marble statue that has come alive; sweet mango shoot just bloomed; blossomed flower; frozen lightning rod; a goddess descended to earth.

She is a refreshingly charming young woman.


His body is polished metal; hot blood is bubbling in his veins. He is a male black bird that has landed on a branch; he is a butterfly turned into a human. He is the deity that has descended to the earth for her sake.

That is the heaven transformed into that room. That is a dream behind the curtain. There is everlasting spring.

The old man comes there everyday, walking and walking and walking to watch that dream, that everlasting spring, that heaven through that open curtain.

How long since?

Maybe a year’s gone by …

It’s a year since he’s come to this town, or, nearly year. The night he came here, he lost his way and kept wandering in the dark. Then the dark clouds beset him from all sides like the scheming army of Sikander. He didn’t even realize that it was raining until it had started pouring down.

In one big sweep, the bone-chilling winds and the torrential rain came together and bashed him.

He had to drag himself and his cane to the nearby verandah quickly.

On that day he was not feeling well; couldn’t eat, couldn’t relish any food at all.

In a split second, his heart melted and became a pool.

– stupid, stupid, stupid life, life is stupid.

How long to live this way? Why live at all for however long?

Sun in the street, water in the lake, shade under the tree, for how long do I have to live like this?

Where did I come from and how? Why am I living here and why in this manner?

When will I go, how and whereto?

Probably some people would know answers to these questions but he does not know clearly even how to ask them.

In this world, jammed with the word “I” in all case endings [grammatical forms], nobody knows the reason for the pain caused by “falling” into this world even when it is in plain sight. And he does not know either.

It is raining. He is shivering. He pulled up the sheet tight and covered himself. His entire body is aching.

-Legs are aching

Powerful gusts of wind, torrents of rain showering intermittently, streaks of lightning in between, and roars of thunderbolts continually …

The verandah is getting drenched in the rain. Water is sliding down from the remaining part of the roof.

-Dying would be nice. Why not some thunderbolt strikes me? Thunderbolt did not him. They struck in so many other places. Probably they all thought, “why strike an old hag snuck in a corner”[1] and left the rundown clay-tiled house alone!

No kind man would look at me. Why talk about this or that man when god himself does not care? 

That’s what is happening—the falling thunderbolts, the nice people who care, and the god looking askance—they all are keeping their distance and continuing to do so.

– Would be nice if I could die this time.

It is not correct to say that the situation “has come” to the point when he would wish “it would nice if I died.”

The situation has been in the same place always.

Conditions have always been the same.

As long as he could remember, his situation has always been the same.

He has no recollection of who had given birth to him.

Wretched couple, sinners, weaklings, slaves.

What does it matter who did. He was born to somebody.

And the person who had given birth to him ran away out of fear.

How can he remember anything now?

But he remembers very well the old woman who had raised him.

“Had I not looked out for you that day, you would’ve died long time ago, idiot, show some loyalty,” she used to say again and again. She treated him horribly and died long time ago. Before she died, she had left him here on this very street.

He has no choice but keep walking along the same ghoulish path the old woman had walked and showed him. He could find no other way; nobody is there to show him.

His ghastly life knows no happiness, no comforts.

But –

A few—very few—sweet memories are still lingering.

What kind of memories are they? How great are they? Or, how poor are they?

One afternoon, a kind old woman saw him. Her face was white; she wore a dot as big as a rupee coin, a hairdo as big as a water-jug, and a charming smile. She called him to come closer, was kind to him, gave him her blessings and sent him out into the world. Her blessings had not materialized, so what? Isn’t blessing with a kind heart in itself worth something. One day he found a missing child and brought him to his mother, and the mother gave him a brand new dhoti. One night a foreign soldier got drunk and threw away a five-rupee note. On another night, he shared some of his food with a woman and in turn, that woman let him lay his hand on her. One day, a mad dog jumped on him to bite, and somebody came and drove it away. One  evening, a policeman let him go without thrashing him.

In addition to these memories that flash across in his mind, there are a few others:

A charming little girl who wore anklets and bopped around under a tree in a village one afternoon, a caring woman, with the charm of soft moonlight, who was sitting in a train and feeding her baby, a jangilee fellow who sang the urmilamma nidra one night, a drifter who told him about the distinctive features of snowy mountains in the heat of smoking hukka

It makes him happy him whenever he thinks of these people and these occasions also.

Rest of it is,

Hard, hard, hard survival.

It was okay while he was young and he was not ailing.

Now the age is telling on him. He has fallen ill. His hand is shaking when he holds the stick. He is feeling cold even when it is not winter. The heat is unbearable even when it is not summer. The feeling in his stomach is the same whether it is filled or not. Having an empty stomach is becoming normal.


It is raining everywhere. A thunderbolt struck somewhere far off. Lightning is striking again and again.

He, unmindful of them, just sat there brooding over the topic wouldn’t it be nice if I were dead.

Probably he dozed off a bit;

Maybe a piece of tile broke loose and falls off the roof;

Maybe because of that he wakes up. He rubs his eyes and looks around.

The dark sky, which was so dense one could touch it, and which showered pots of water the night before is shining jet black and lucid by the time he has woken up and looked. In the sky, a few gorgeous stars are flickering like scattered pearls every which way. The wind has carried away the clouds that had lashed out earlier. There is no breeze, it is quiet everywhere. A song is reaching out softly from somewhere. For that reason, the rest of it is even quieter. That entire night is cool and pleasing like the body of a woman who has taken bath, worn new clothes, and flowers and walked into a room without lighting.

While it is quiet everywhere and he is watching, light … light … light and more light from one thousand bulbs has permeated the place in one sweep!

Somebody laughed, feasting his ears.

Gods, gods, … some gods are laughing.

Because he is up just now, because he could not see the building in front of him; and is unaware of the house there, he is thinking that somebody has opened the doors to the sky, and that the gods in heaven are laughing. He is thinking that the song along with the bright light that swept him away is the music gandharvas [demigods] singing.

He is feeling goose bumps all over; he is enthralled.

Two hands came out through the lighting.

“The showers are gone completely. .. see how cool it is!”

“Cooler than you?”

Her hand and his hand have pulled back into the room.

She turns the other way. Before she finished turning, he pulls her back.

Who are they?

They’re not humans, not gods; no, they are not humans, they are gods!

He is longing to watch them like that forever.

He is unable to restrain himself from watching them.

*                    *                    *

On that particular day, while it had been raining, the darkness had been reigning, and while he had been wishing he were dead, he took a short nap. By the time he woke up, the rain stopped, the sky blossomed, and the gods opened the doors.

In that moment, it was genuinely heaven.

That is the reason that old worn out cane has been bringing him each night to that place.

By the time he arrives there, the window is open and the light is on.

Those two continue to be there and the radio keeps singing.

The vision he had got a year ago when he first came there that night—that they were gods and that it was heaven—has been recurring each day for a few seconds in that darkness.

For those few seconds, his heart floats in the air, reaches to the stars, and soaks in nectar. After thus soaked and buoyed up, and settled down leisurely, his heart gets carried away with the song

–into the gardens of multicolored flowers, into the radiance of the curves of white pigeon’s necks, into the shadows of soothing gardens flourishing along hillsides, into the dream castles afloat white clouds, into the paths of stars, from pearly floor designs to dream-filled paradise, and heavenly dreams—that is what that window is.

He would like to live for that reason—to come there and experience that unique feeling. From that night on, that is what making him to live—that desire, that feeling, that window.

It is not sky but an old building; it is not the gateway to the heaven but a window without bars. It is not the pinnacle of light from the city of the Lord Indra but an ordinary electric lamp in town. It is not the music of gandharvas from the radio. They are not divine souls but ordinary young couple—a man and a woman. That is not heaven at all. Just a small room with a coat of white paint.

Possibly that is true. That may be the truth. That in reality is the truth. But he is not concerned with that truth.

Indra’s mansion, heavenly gate, bejeweled pinnacle, diamond studded mirror, swan-feathered bed, deities’ perpetual lamp, the golden throne, ageless couple—that is the surreal, metaphysical reality.

For him –

That is the truth. Those are the reality. They are real.

That is the reason he has been taking great pains and coming here from far—to view that lie which is the truth for him.

He is not interested in finding out the truth behind that window, nor who the people behind that window are. If he knows, he might not have the same feeling he has been having everyday. He has no desire to let go of those feelings and those illusions.

Maybe one year  passed by, he thought peeking into the window.

She is sitting in the sofa. He is sitting on the arm of the sofa  and laughing. The light bulb hanging from the wire is spreading beams of light. Radio is singing on. Everything continues to be pleasant. The heaven is heavenly. He is gazing as always.


He is feeling tired.

Today he is feeling tired, very tired.

One cannot attain divinity just by staring at the heaven; not even the weariness goes away. He is not going to be any less hungry.

Hard times do nothing but suck up the muscle and the youth of those who tow their lives arduously.

It has been getting hard even to walk through the lime powder lying around, past the hardened tar and the bumpy gravel road. In addition, maybe because he tried to hurry through those eighty feet on the dusty path, he is feeling even more tired.

The tired eyes keep staring at the celestial planet.

The dark clouds are gobbling up the stars which are rising from the tops of palm trees.

It is very cold.

He is very tired.

That is it, I was wondering what is it? Today I am drained flat out.

He laid back still feeling tired.

Why the heart is racing?

The heartbeat is fast, and he is feeling weak.

Why it is so very cold today?

It was hot in the afternoon. It is getting cold by evening.

Now, it is not only very cold but very dark also. The sky is full of clouds and more clouds.

Like the other day, maybe it will rain today too; it is freezing cold, even the rag is torn into bits! What to do  now?

A slash runs through the sky from one end to the other, breaking it into two. Then it is gone. Resounding noise as if it is hurt big.

Cold wind is holding sway.

It seems even the heaven is hit by cold blast.

“Let us close the doors,” the goddess said.

“Yes,” the god said.

Oh no, they closed the doors.

The curtain which was open is closed shut.

The gateway is closed.

Why it is so dark God?

In the flood of darkness, the sweet dreams are drowned. They have disappeared into the hazy clouds that shrouded the place. Where is the spring that is supposed to stay forever, where has it gone? What happened to all the pearls, palanquins, dreams, heavens, all those which paraded in front of his eyes?

The woman in a wrinkled white saree, with a face like moon, stretches lazily, looks at the half-broken verandah and says to her man who is lying on the bed, “Poor old man, wonder who he might be. He’s lying there wound up in the cold. Come see, poor thing, probably he was shivering all night.”

“I am shivering too, come here,” he says from the bed.

“I won’t come,” she says, walking towards him nevertheless.

The tattered, dirty, crumpled and torn sheet is not covering well “the old man who is wound up and lying” in the verandah of the clay-tiled house.

He is looking like a rotten, moldy, wasted stick. He is like rotten garbage drenched in rain. The skin is emaciated, stretched and frayed. His hair is like a cobweb. His face is like a partly charred coconut shell. The left eye on the face is missing. His back is an arched bow. His left hand is chopped at the elbow. The foot on his right leg is missing. In its place, there is a bunch of old and heavily soiled rags are bound. Under his head, there are wet dirty clothes. Under his body, there is a small jute bag. Next to him are lying a couple of cheroot butts, an old stick, a grubby, tattered bag, and a rusty tin mug.

It is not clear what that bag is holding or not holding in it.

The sun is rising high. The sunbeams through the palm trees are dispersing over him a little.

But, for the sunlight, the sustainer of life in the world, to disperse over him in that moment is meaningless.

*                               *                               *

(Telugu original, kitiki was published in Bharati‌ November 1953. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, October 2007)

[1] Proverb. Why hit an old woman lying in a corner.

Illusion by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

Murthy received his law degree. He stood in front of the senior lawyer with humility. Then the senior lawyer gave him a valuable advice. He told Murthy to remember one important thing. He stressed that that was the only way to succeed in this world.

The senior lawyer spoke somberly, “The English man said that the early bird catches the worm. In other words, you have to wake up early if you want to catch the worm. The English man is not an ordinary man. He never says anything unless and until he has scrutinized its pros and cons thoroughly. He never does anything unless there is something in it for him. Therefore, you wake up early everyday, go to the court and have the doors opened. In the evening, wait until the court doors are closed and then go home. Make sure you are present in the court each and everyday. Prostitutes wait at the door. Foxes hang round the graveyards. The cranes linger by the shores. I know the similarity is not a pleasant one. Yet that is what we need to do. If you want to climb up the ladder, you will have to hang around the courts. You may play hooky, giving flimsy excuses—the cricket match at noon, a matinee in the afternoon, or some other errand, and so on. If you do that, I am telling you, you will not succeed as a lawyer. That is for sure, I am telling you from experience. Do you know what the term “court” means? It is a jungle. Do you know the Telugu word for hyena? dummulagondi. Hyena’s laughs sounds like that of humans. If you approach him, mistaking him for a human, he will eat you up alive. That is the way in the courts too. We have to entice the parties that come to the court. That is our job. What can we do but act like the hyena? We can’t blame him for eating up the man who approaches him. It is the man’s fault to go to the hyena. Are you listening? In fact, it is not only the hyena. There are other bigger animals as well. They maul us if we are not careful. Therefore, we have to be on guard all the time. If we are not, the parties eat us up. The truth is that is how the whole world moves. You and I cannot do anything about it. The English man had drafted the law in accordance with the principles of this stupid world. Never forget that he, the English man, handed down all these things to us—these courts, the law books, the law degrees, and the witness procedures. There so many courts for the parties to choose from. There are as many precedents for the judges to draw from based on a ruling the judges prefer to give. And there are just as many rascals in the country to get upon the witness stand and give their statements anyway you want them to. We are here to train the witnesses. Whether it is a criminal court or civil court, they are concerned with only the statements of the witnesses but not with truth. You can throw in all the sizzling terminology like ‘justice,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘truth.’ But remember that this is all just an illusion. That is the way the system is and we are acting within the purview of the system. That being the case, how can they call our action a sin? No, the sin will not touch us. If there is anything that can be called a ‘sin’ that goes to the judge who gives the ruling. The parties bear the expenses. The witnesses and the court clerks are entitled to bribes. We are entitled to our fees. That is the law the English man had laid for us. The officers take the apples and the people rake the leaves. The rules are the same whether it is our country or theirs. That is what he had taught us. Sweating is for the workers and profits for the owners. If anybody questions this rule and rebels, we have the courts to support us. And then there are jails. Without these things, there is no regime for the English man to call his. He is a great illusionist. Just imagine what a great magician he has to be! Look what he did. He came to our country, sold our own salt to us,[1] and turned around and taunted us, ‘You ate my salt. How can you not be loyal to me?’[2] He’d gotten the courts and jailhouses built for us, and beautiful mansions for himself. And what did he do at the end? He suspected that the stupid laborers might seize power—like the way it had happened in other countries. He was afraid that it could turn into a total disaster. So, he handed over the regime to his fellow businessmen and disappeared quietly behind the curtains. What an amazing showmanship! What a magnificent performance!”

The senior lawyer finished his speech. He always goes into raptures when he recounts the merits of the English man. He speaks with his eyes half-closed and lost in a fit of reverie. If he were a woman, he would have run away with some English man long time ago.

Murthy was baffled. He did not realize until that moment that the crooks carried such a huge clout in this world and that there would be gentlemen who could go into raptures at the mere thought of those crooks.

The senior lawyer noticed it and said, “Don’t think I am being cynical. I just spoke the truth. Drop the veil and that is what you will find anywhere anytime. No confusion there.”

Murthy still was not convinced of it, despite the detailed analysis by the senior lawyer, his guru. He had not experienced the revelation yet. He could not digest the lessons the seniors had tried to teach him. As a result, in this one year, his eyes sunk in and he lost weight. It looked like somebody would have to come forward, give him a massage and pull him up.

One day, he was on his way home, dragging his feet sluggishly. Somebody grabbed his shoulder from behind and stopped him. He turned around with a jerk and nearly fell. The man behind him stopped him from falling.

The man was looking like an eagle. He spoke quickly, “Babu! It, I mean the case is about a woman. The police arrested her and put her in jail. It is not a big case. A small liquor case. You have to get her out on bail. Here, this fellow and I are the bailers. Here are our legal documents pertaining to our properties. Our village munsif did not put the pen to the papers until after we had shelled down five hard rupees. This fellow is the defendant’s husband. He will pay you something. Please, Babu! You have to get her out.”

The second man, also looking like an eagle, was standing next to first. He was the second bailer. The defendant’s husband who looked like a sleepy fox was standing a little away from the two bailers.

The two men yelled at him, “You! Give Babu something now.”

The husband was a little tipsy. “Tell him to get her out first,” he said.

“How can he get her out without getting paid?”

“I am not falling for such games. Ask him to get her out first.”

“You put down the money. He will get her out.”

The debate went on for a while. Finally Murthy drafted the bail papers, got them signed, got her released, distributed the funds and was about to leave for the day. The bailer stopped him.

“What?” Murthy asked him.

“Come here. I have to talk to you,” he said.

“Okay. Say it.”

“Just come here.”

“I did. Tell me.”

“Babu! Where do you live?”


“I will bring her to your house.”


“You can take up her case.”

“All right.”

“Don’t accept less than one hundred rupees.”

“Can she afford it?”

“Why not? She is loaded.”

“All right.”

“Don’t go lower than fifty under any circumstance.”

“That is fine.”

“Just you stay put on that number I’ve given you. I’ll make sure she pays. She will. That idiot husband of hers won’t let go of a penny but she is not like that.”

“All right. Tell them to come tomorrow.”

“Sure. I will put her in chains and drag her if I have to. You do have to remember us though.”

“What for?”

“What for? Like you don’t know!”

“What do you mean?”

“You keep your share and let’s have ours. You don’t have to give it to us today. What do you’ve got to lose. I am talking about tomorrow.” He set out to leave and stopped again. “One more thing. Tomorrow she will say she is poor. I will also say ‘yes, Babu, she is poor.’ But you stay put on your number,” he said and left.

The next morning Murthy was sitting in a chair on the verandah. It was 8 o’clock. He smoked half a cigarette. The bailer showed up, with the woman behind him.

“Here Babu! She is the woman I told you about yesterday,” he said.

She could be about thirty-years old. Probably she was beautiful long time back. She must have put up her long hair in a fancy bun during that period. The black sari she was wearing now probably was new some time back. In all probability, she was eating well and was robust way back then. She sat down on the floor a little away from the backer. She kept staring at Murthy with piercing eyes.

“What did you say your name was? I forgot,” Murthy said.

“Muthelamma. I’d been to the court several times,” she said and came straight to the point. “I’d been to the court several times, retained famous lawyers and paid them huge chunks of cash. But those days are gone. I am not that Muthelamma anymore. I am crushed to the dust. My business is crushed. For every one liquor store in the past, we have ten stores now. Now the police are selling the liquor themselves. I am leveled to the ground. Forget the stories about my husband and me for a second. I can live with a slug of rice broth. My husband will not touch it without a drink. And then the children! One child died just two days back. I have two more. I am having hard time feeding those two kids. So, what I am giving is not money but my blood. Now tell me what is your rate for settling this case. Look at me, take a good look, think about and then tell me.”

“Can you pay one hundred rupees?” Murthy asked feebly.

“No Babu! I can’t raise that kind of money, even if I sell myself, and everything I have. I can’t give you one hundred, not even fifty rupees. I will if I had the money. I do have to have the money to give to you, right? You tell me the truth. Probably this bailer fellow told you to ask one hundred rupees. What does he care? He’ll say ‘give, give,” even if you’d asked two hundred rupees. If I paid you a paisa, he will take one-half of that. I know all these things very well. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learnt after starting this liquor business. Here! Listen to me! I will not trust anybody, not even if you swear on your life. You show a man and say, ‘here is a good man,’ I’ll not trust you. Not you, not this bailer, nobody, I trust nobody. Nothing is certain in this world except money. Take the animals. They can’t talk. Yet they have morals but not us. I’ve been to any school and I have no ethics. You have education and you have no ethics either. The entire world is prostituting itself for money. I am selling alcohol for money. You are selling education for money. The police are selling the law for money. You go to the hospital for drugs; they sell the drugs and beds for money. The streetwalkers are chasing rickshaws and cars and selling their bodies for money. You go to the temple, give them half a coconut and a paisa. They will sell you god’s grace for money. Lawyer Babu! in the elections this bailer, you and I, all of us are sold for money. Sale! Sale! Sale! There’s nothing but sale in this world. I have no schooling yet this is the truth I’ve come to see. Tell me if I am wrong. you prove it to me. I’ll listen.”

“Yesyes,” said Murthy.

“You can’t prove me wrong. I know that too, lawyer Babu! I’ve seen them all. I’ve got nothing to look forward to, no reason to live. I am tired. I have no faith in anybody—the man I was married to, the child I gave birth to or anyone for that matter. I have reached that point that I don’t care anymore whether I live or die. Life and death are the same for me. Why are you staring at me like that? You think I am talking philosophy? No, Babu. This is what I’ve come to see and understand. I am not saying this to confuse you.”

That’s true. Murthy was baffled by her outpour.

“Babu! Sometimes I see my life and think it’s better to die than live this way. After starting this business, I have seen the worst. When I was little, I used to work for daily wages. Money was not much in that but not this horrible either. Then, greed took over and got me into this mess. Am I rolling in riches? No. All I’d done was only to support the police and the others. I did not earn a paisa for myself. I got into this liquor business and ruined the drunks and myself. I am ruined every which way. Babu! At home, I have nothing to cook but the grill. In the grill, there is nothing but the ashes, not a splinter to start fire. It is more than a week since I had a sale. In the past one week, I did not have a drop to sell. I am living only because I could not kill myself. Then this head constable shows up. He raided my place twenty times because he had not received his kickback. That drove me crazy. Last time he showed up, that was it. Seen the waves rise in the ocean; that’s how the throbbing in my stomach flared up. I have a bad mouth even on ordinary days. On that day, I hit the roof. I had a couple of rounds liquor too. Babu, mine is a wretched life. I couldn’t think straight, I picked up the pestle … it was awful … the head constable ran away, didn’t even care to pick up his red cap, which fell off in the scuttle. He ran away on that day and yesterday he did this, locked me up. Lawyer Babu, I am heart-broken. I buried my daughter last week, exactly a week from today. She just turned six. That’s it. Why was she born? Why did she die? Who could tell? Who cares about my pain? I cried and cried. My life is a living hell. Lawyer babu, you did not see her but I am telling you, even girls in your families are not that sharp. You may not believe this. During last peerlu festival, she played a lion. The entire village came rushing to watch my little girl play the lion. During other festivals also she went up the stage and performed the dances from all the movies. I was hoping that some day some big man would come and take her into the movies. But, babu, it is my liquor business that ruined my life and home.

“My girl used to sit at the corner of the street from dawn to midnight watching the police. As soon as she spotted them, she would come in calling out, ‘Amma, dogs, dogs are coming.’ At once, I would pick up and hide away all the tubes, beakers, glasses and the rest of the stuff under the trash in the backyard. The same thing happened that day too. It was about a month ago. She came rushing in and calling out, ‘amma, the dog … the dog bit me.’ I thought she meant the police as usual and got busy hiding away my liquor stuff; I did not look at her. My girl was scared and kept saying the dog bit her. At first, I panicked. Then I calmed her down, ‘its okay, just a small scratch. It’s all right.’ I did not realize that she was bitten by a mad dog. I buried my own child in the dust. I buried my pearl, a doll of gold. Lawyer Babu, I was busy hiding the liquor tubes but not my own child. What kind of life is this? My husband was lost to the liquor; my business has gone to the police and my daughter to the dogs. Ccha. What kind of business is this? What kind of life is this? I was feeling rotten with all this and now this police officer slapped this case on me only because he did not get his kickback. Yesterday I’d not had one gallon of liquor, not one glassful, not even a drop. All I have is two more children. I am swearing on their lives. You may or may not believe me. The head constable handed down this to me only because I attacked him the other day.

“Therefore, lawyer babu, I will give you not one hundred rupees, not fifty but twenty five. Even for that, I will have to sell my man, my kids and myself. There is no other way. Yet I will make sure that you will get your money. Would I ask you to work for me without paying for it? If I can’t pay you cash, I will work; wash dishes in your house. How much will you pay for washing dishes, tell me? Probably four or five rupees if I work for one whole month. That is it, right? This case takes one hour for you if settled on the first day. Or you may ask for continuation for second and even third time. No matter how many continuations you seek, you will spend only one hour for arguing this case. For that one hour of your time in the court, I will wash your dishes for six months and settle the account. I know nobody should rob others of their labor. Do you think I don’t know that? I know. You argue my case. I will certainly repay you. Until then you keep this ten rupees.”

Murthy felt embarrassed to take the money from Muthelamma. He took it though. Muthelamma got up to leave. The bailer did not move. She told him to get up too. “I will pay for your coffee. Don’t ask Babu for money,” she told him and dragged him out from there.

Murthy decided that he must get her out somehow. He was convinced that the case was fabricated. He talked to the head constable and got him to admit it. The head constable admitted, “True Babu. This is cooked up. But you didn’t hear her language on that day. Shouldn’t she show respect for the red cap at least? I wanted to show her place. What do you want me to do? You go ahead and argue your case. You do your duty and we will do ours.”

On the day the case was presented, the entire courtroom was filled with hustle and bustle. The head constable and a police officer took the stand and gave their statements. After that, first Muthelamma and then Murthy walked out of the court.   Muthelamma pulled Murthy to a side and asked him, “Babu, what do you think will happen?”

Murthy felt he had a strong case but did not have the courage to say so. “They said they would give the ruling by the end of the day,” he said.

“What did the police officer say?”

“He was firm.”

“And the Head?”

“He fumbled. His statements were fuzzy. We have a good chance,” Murthy said. He was in fact very excited that he caused both the witnesses botch during his cross-examination.

“Does that mean the head constable’s statements are no good?”

“Yes. We have proved his statements wrong.”

“That is what I thought too.”

“What made you think so?”

“I just thought.”


“Why? Here is why. Yesterday the head constable came to me. He said, “Let bygones be bygones. What do you say?” What can I say when he says like that? He agreed to falter and I agreed to pay him his cut. The truth for the courts is different, babu. I’ve been there so many times; I know it very well. For them all that matters is the witnesses’ statements. What if the head constable also stayed put like the police officer? I will do the jail term. These witnesses may go up on the stand one after another and give their sworn statements. But the reality is they would have their stories corroborated with each other long before that. Also, they would listen to each other’s statements from verandah. They would stand at the window and sign to each other. If the witness at the window were forced to leave the premise, somebody else would take his place, listen to the first witness and fill in the second witness. It doesn’t really matter whether they have listened to each other or not, they all belong in the same side. Even otherwise, they’ve seen thousands of cases like these; they know the process only too well. They know what to say. Let’s see, what questions would you ask normally? Something like this—When did you leave the police station? How many of you went there? Did you wear plain clothes or uniforms? Did you walk or ride bicycles? Which one of you saw her first? From how far? Did you measure the liquor? Did you smell it? Did you do the routine check up although it was considered a liquor store? That is what you would ask too, right? Yes, Babu! That is really nothing for them. The judge listens to all this and says that everything is in order. ‘No loopholes in the witnesses’ statements. Even if there are, they are minor ones. Therefore, you pay the fine. Or else go to jail.’ That’s what the judge would say. Babu, I paid fines three times, two hundred rupees each time—that was my blood, Babu, my blood! Therefore, Babu, I thought what the heck and paid him off. I was worried though. Worried wondering—what if he goes back on his word and tells a pack of lies on the witness stand. He did let it go after all. Good. No problem,” Muthelamma told Murthy reassuringly.

She was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “You were very good too! You were very tough in your cross-examination. I was a little scared at first, thought you were new at this sort of things. But you did good. When you questioned the first witness, he nearly fell apart. The head constable also wouldn’t have crumbled like that if you hadn’t been that tough. I heard everything and I saw everything. I was right there watching you. You’ve come down hard on them.”

Murthy was disheartened like a fizzled balloon. He understood now why the entire case was cleared up so easily like the morning fog. After the case was dismissed, Muthelamma came to pay him the balance. Murthy felt embarrassed and refused to accept it. Muthelamma had no choice but to leave with her money.

For Murthy the whole thing looked absurd and illusive. It was like a magic show. There was no liquor. But the police brought charges against her on the pretense that liquor was found. Then again, they dropped the charges saying liquor was not found. Actually, it did not happen. They said that had happened which in reality did not happen. They said what really did not happen had happened. It is and it is not. That is one heck of an illusion. But …

Murthy went on thinking about Muthelamma. “What a heartrending pain in the midst of all this illusion!” Then the senior lawyer came to his mind. Evidently, the senior lawyer had recognized only the nature of the illusion but not the pain. Then again, did he not know about the pain? Or, knew but did not care? Did he not really know that, in this world of illusions, there are also people like Muthelamma? Did he know or not?

Good God! Why not? Of course, he knows definitely, just does not care; that is all!

(The original in Telugu, “Maya,” was published in the 1950’s and later included in the anthology, “aaru saaraa kathalu.” [Six liquor stories]. Vijayawada: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1962.)

Translated by © Nidadavolu Malathi.

[1] During the British Rule, the government imposed tax on salt and the Indians protested, famously known as Salt Satyagraham. The famous salt satyagraha led by Gandhi in 1930 was a crucial part of Indian Freedom Movement.

[2] A famous adage in Telugu, similar to ‘biting the hand that feeds.’