Tag Archives: Telugu humor

Andallu and the Onions by I. V. S. Atchyutavalli

Andallu stood before the mirror, tucked a huge bunch of roses in her long braid, and finished the braid with the gold bells tying tightly at the end. Rolling her big beautiful eyes all over the image in the mirror, she watched herself as if she was taken by her beauty. She did not notice the arrival of Lakshmanacharyulu or the plantain leaf packet in his hand.

Lakshmanam watched his wife’s absorption with her beauty and coughed a small cough.

Andallu jerked turned around; her wide eyes became wider. “Ah, you! How long since you’ve come,” she said in a kind of dragging tone and put the coffee flask on the table.

“What does it matter how long I’ve been here? Been standing so long, my legs are hurting; yet you won’t let go of your love for your primary husband for me,” he replied somberly.

Andallu twitched.

“Don’t worry my beautiful! I meant the full-length mirror fastened to the dresser your primary husband, no other person. Am I not second to him? Don’t you do all those things only in front of him? Whether it is a new sari, flowers in your hairdo, the dot on your forehead and the eye make up—the entire make up is only for him, isn’t that right? You don’t even look at me without his permission.”

“Uh, go away. You’re too much. You are turning into a poet par excellence,” she said, chuckling.

“Haven’t our great teachers (predecessors) stated that the poet may see what the sun cannot? Am I not a poet? My namesake, Lakshmana kavi, translated the Bhartruhari’s poetry and left at that. I would have written a lot more inculcating all the three rasas—the sensuous, the liberating, and the devotional,” he said, smiling.

Andallu saw the packet on the table and asked, “What’s that?”

“Things you like very much, Devi!” he said, teasingly.

“Things I like very much?” she said, warily.

There was a reason for Andallu to be apprehensive. Andallu was pregnant for the first time. She was five months along. She was a beautiful woman to begin with. And, with the pregnancy and the morning sickness, she became even more beautiful, that is thinner and more delicate like a kasiratnam vine.

Lakshmanam loved her immensely because she was his first cousin and also pregnant. He was the only son to his parents. Now, within one year of his marriage, he was going to have a son to prolong his pedigree. Right away, he wrote to his mother and mother-in-law. Andallu had said, “don’t” but he did not listen to her pleas.

On the previous day, Andallu was bored and so went to her neighbor Subhadra’s house. Subhadra was frying potato pieces and onions. Andallu’s mouth watered not the fried dark brown potato pieces but for the onion pieces which glowed brilliantly in the steel pan.

Subhadra continued to blabbing this and that and asking questions in between. None of the words went into Andallu’s ears. All her eyes were glued to the onion pieces in the steel pan. She was lost in imagining the onion bits in her mouth, even savored each drop of the sweet juice scrumptiously; her tongue experienced the taste of hot pepper as well.

“Fifth month along, I suppose. How come your mother has not come yet? First time pregnant, you might be yearning for various things to eat. If mother is here, she will know what appeals to your tongue and makes it for you. You are a loner by nature. You know what they say—young wife’s managing the household is like splinters ablaze; no steady, lasting flames. If you feel like eating something, tell me—chutney or curry, anything. I’ll make it for you. You are no different from my younger sister. Anyway, you are still young, why bother about traditions? You know, these men run to the hotels and eat all kinds of junk and nobody questions them. Again the same fellows go at it, isn’t that great?” said Subhadra warmly.

At once, Andallu wanted to say, “Please, akka, let me have a bit of the curry” but again thought, Cha, how can I ask?” Subhadra would announce the story to the entire town. “I might as well buy the ingredients and make the curry myself,” she told herself and returned home, fettering her thoughts tight in her head.

Thus when her husband said the packet contained something she wanted, she thought it might be onions; she was worried that he had found out about her craving for onions. The reason for her fear was Andallu talked in her sleep sometimes; it became a pattern for her. Sometime back, she had wished for a red gold-threaded sari and that night in her dream, she had said, “I wish I could wear a red gold-threaded sari and go to the movies with you.” The next morning, soon after he woke, he went to the store and bought a red gold-threaded sari. At that time also, she had asked as always, what the packed had contained. He had responded the same way, “Something you always wanted.” She had opened the packet and was surprised to see the red sari. He had explained to her later about her speaking in her sleep. Now Andallu feared that she had talked in her sleep possibly. For that reason, she could not reach the leaf packet and open it. She was scared that she might find a pesarattu or onion in it. No matter how much her heart craved for it, how much her husband loved her, she did not have the courage to ask him for something that would flout the family traditions. She looked at him with hesitation and embarrassment.

“Come on, open it and see,” he said teasingly.

That frightened her even more.

“Ah, Andi,

Oh, Andi,

Open and see Andi,

See and take Andi.”

Lakshmanam kept humming a Punjabi style tune as he unwound the thread around the packet.

Andallu felt sick in the stomach with fear. She ran to the backyard, threw up, washed and sat down in a chair, wiping her face with a towel.

Lakshmanam brought a spoonful of maadi fruit juice to calm her nausea. Then he said, “You’ve not opened the packet yourself” and finished opening it. It was a bunch of swarna sampenga flowers. Quite taken by their aroma, Andallu, said, “ha!“ and took a deep breath.
The next day, after her husband had left for work, Andallu bought onions and garlic from the vegetable vendor. She packed them carefully in a newspaper and hid them in the midst of the stack of her saris. She planned to fry potatoes and onions in the evening and eat. She cut the vegetables and was about to fry.

Suddenly, Lakshmanam appeared out of nowhere like a villain of the piece.

“Andi, I booked tickets for the movie Navarang. Quick, go and change. We can eat after we returned,” he said.

Andallu who was planning to make the onion curry and eat before he came, was dumbstruck. He did not tell her about it in advance. Anyway, she quickly threw the onion and potato cuts in to a dish, washed her hands first with cow dung, then with soap and returned. Poor thing, she did not have the pleasure of watching a movie on that day.

The next day, she told her this is not way to do it. She started making pakora as soon as her husband had left for work. She put the frying pan on the stove, poured oil into the pan and turned the heat on. Then she mixed chick pea flour with chili powder and salt; started chopping ginger, green chillies, and onion finely.

Just in that moment, Vimalamma, a neighbor, pushed the door open and walked in. She laid the sitting plank and asked, “What are you doing, pregnant woman? Are you making some snack? Is that Bajji?”

Andallu hesitated for a moment; then told herself, “She is here, so what? I feel like eating and so I’ll make them.” Then, she hesitated again. “Gosh, isn’t she going to announce to the entire town?” By nature, Andallu was a nervous woman by nature. She thought for a second and in one quick move, she threw away the onion pieces, cut green plantain and made bajji.

Vimalamma gave her a couple of sweet mysorepak pieces, “Here, eat.”

Andallu put several pieces of bajji on a steel plate and gave them to Vimalamma, “Here, give them to your kids.”

By the time this event ended … the maid came … then it was time to cook supper … Lakshmanam arrived … The day was over with the routine as always.

Throughout the night, Andallu dreamt about onion fries and pakora.

Ever since she woke up, she waited for her husband to leave for office.

As soon as he left, she shut the doors tight and ground mung beans, chopped ginger, green peppers and onions finely and made pesarattu,, well almost … Before she poured the dough on the grill to make pesarattu, she heard somebody banging on the door. Whoever could be? Andallu was nearly in tears. She sighed, threw the onion pieces out the back door, scrubbed her hands with dirt until the smell was gone and then opened the door.

Her mother-in-law Ragavamma and sister-in-law Thayaru were standing in front of her.

Andallu’s face turned pale.

‘“What are you doing, Vadina! My brother is not home and you’ve shut the door and started cooking all your favorite dishes?” Thayaru said, teasingly.

“Ha, that’s funny! It surely looks like she is eating! Andallu! You’re so skinny, why? Seems like you’ve lost plenty of weight. If you’re too shy to ask me, why didn’t you write to your mother, you silly,” said Ragavamma, putting her hand round Andallu’s shoulders lovingly.

After that a few days went by wildly with things like bathing and eating, Ragavamma making dosa with the dough Andallu had prepared, distributing the sweets she brought—the sugar minapasunne, ariselu, chakrakeli bananas—to neighbors, and so on. They stayed for two months, Andallu was seven months pregnant.

During those two months, every time Lakshmanam got ready to go to the store, Andallu’s face looked restless as if she wanted to say something. He tried to coax her into saying it but she never said a word. He was restless.

Towards the end of the seventh month, her mother Ravanjamma and sister-in-law Alivelu came to bring her home for delivery. The house buzzed with relatives and festivities and special dishes for the next four days. Yet there was no sign of the pregnant woman getting her craving satisfied. Whom she could tell and what could she tell? Had she told? … Wouldn’t that be ridiculous, regardless they were her relatives? She thought of telling her mother or sister-in-law about her craving. Each time her heart pushed her forward her tongue pulled back.

Her mother-in-law said to Andahllu’s mother, “Vadina, talk to your daughter and find out what she wants. I’ve made several dishes but she ate none with relish. You are the mother, you should know. If she tells what she wants, I can make it for her. She is the only daughter-in-law for me. At this age, I am not happy unless I make her favorite dishes and feed her.”

“Ha, ha ha!” Ravanjamma burst into a big laugh and turned to her daughter, “Andi, why don’t you tell us what you want. Looking for the two bits mom dishes out (smacking) or what?”

 

“Come on, Vadina, say it. If you don’t say and have it now, the baby would be born with puss in the ear. People like us are supposed to fulfill all the yearnings before a pregnant woman turns mom,” said Alivelu, laughing.

 

“Is that true, I mean the puss in baby’s ear?” said Andallu looking worried; her eyes and face were taut.

 

“What? Are you not convinced still? Or, is your heart craving for fish soup or something for heaven’s sake? We have the saying—Each one of them is a Vaishnavite, yet the crab soup disappeared, ha, ha,” Alivelu went on laughing.

 

Mother and Vadina told Andallu to pack the box so could leave soon.

 

Andallu shook her head shyly and said, “Wait for a few more days.”

 

Both Thayaru and Alivelu broke into a big laugh. “We know, we know the whole story. Your heart is yearning to go to movies and walks with my brother, after we are gone. Isn’t that right? That is the reason you want to avoid going with us,” they teased her.

 

Andallu pouted, assumed a bharatanatyam style posture of anger, went into the backyard and sat down.

 

“Don’t sit outside in the open at the twilight time; this is the time for demons supposedly. It’s okay with us if you’re angry with us, just don’t sit here in the out,” said Alivelu, tucking a bunch of chrysanthemum flowers in Andallu’s hairdo and stroking on her cheeks fondly.

 

The next day the house was pretty quiet. Andallu started getting back to her routine sluggishly; she had outgrown the habit in the past two months.

Lakshmanam sat on the doorframe and kept watching her ample mien, her eyes bashfully drooping, and the cheeks glowing with blush off and on for no reason.

 

In Andallu’s mind well-cooked onions bits were glowing and spreading a heartening aroma around. She looked at her husband with salivating tongue.

 

“What is it, Andi? You look strange, why?” Lakshmanam asked.

 

“Nothing. What do you suggest for the side dish?” she asked. In that moment, she wished with all her heart that her husband would bring onions and garlic, make a heap of them in front of her, and tell her, “Here, make soup with some onions, fry some with potato cubes, save some to make pesarattu in the evening, make pakora with a few in the afternoon, fry bits of garlic and toss into the lentil chutney and bits of fried onions in gongura chutney; also, add a few fried bits of telakapindi powder (a by-product in sesame oil production) and chili powder.”

 

Lakshmanam laughed and said, “What does it matter what I want nowadays? You do whatever you feel like eating.”

 

After he finished eating, Lakshmanam was ready to leave for office. He called Andallu to find a handkerchief for him.

 

“Look in the chest of drawers. I am in madi sari. I cannot change until after I am done eating,” she said.

 

He went into the bedroom and tossed and turned all the clothes in the chest. Suddenly, a paper packet fell on to the floor. He opened it; onions! At first he was surprised and then walked into the kitchen. “Andi, the kerchief smells of something,” he said, smiling.

“What smell? Two days back at the festivities time, I distributed some scent bottles and stowed away the remaining two bottles in the chest. Why? Aren’t they good? They called it Rehana or Nurjahan or something, I don’t know for sure,” she said, lowering her head and eating dinner.

 

“Hum, it would’ve been nice if it was the scent. This smell is something else,” he said, pretending to be thinking.

 

Then Andallu understood what he was saying. Hurt, she looked pitiably into his mocking eyes.

 

“Couldn’t you tell me? Don’t I deserve that much of a chance to satisfy your desire?” he said affectionately.

 

Later in the evening, on his way home from work, he went straight to the hotel.

 

“Do you have onion pesarattu?”

 

“We make them only in the mornings, Sir,” the server said.

 

“How about pakora?”

 

“We have it with cashew.”

 

“Let it be. Have sambar to go with idli?” Lakshmanam asked, annoyed.

 

“No Sir. Today’s sambar has drum sticks,” server said, a little surprised at Lakshmanam’s love of onions.

 

“To hell with the idiot face! … Stupid town, stupid, stupid town. What else can we expect after driving away all the Tamil friends out of the state? We have such a huge town yet only one hotel!” thus cursing, he expressed his brotherly love for Tamilians.

 

Next morning, he headed for the hotel as soon as he woke up.

 

“Come, Sir, come. Be the first to eat, the fresh, super fresh pesarattu awash with onions,” server went in and brought four pesarattus with extra onions.

 

Lakshmanam carefully packed them in his kerchief and dashed home in a whiz.

“Andi, Andi, come quick,” he called out for her, bubbling with excitement.

 

Andallu came in, quite pleased for her husband’s affection and care for her, and devotion and attention towards her. Her eyes were wet. She was about to unwind the thread on the packet.

 

“Girl, what are you doing?” her brother Venkatacharyulu showed up.

 

Andallu was baffled. She was not sure whether she should be happy to see her brother, whom she had not seen for a while or feel sorry that her heart’s desire remained unfulfilled.

 

“Girl, they told me that today is an auspicious day. Sastrulu told mother that moodham (adverse days per lunar calendar) sets in soon. She asked me to bring you home today. Bava! Don’t lose heart about her. I’ll send her back along with the son in the third month, I promise,” Venkatacharyulu said.

 

Andallu looked at her husband, disheartened.

 

Lakshmanam watched her as she tossed the packet out the window sadly and said, “All right. Write to me regularly.”

 

After coming to her natal home, it became even more stressful for Andallu. The place was out and out rustic to the core. In that village, her people were the acharyas (religious mentors). With whom she could share wish?

 

As her pregnancy advanced, her fear that the baby could have puss in his ear was getting stronger than the wish to eat onions. Whether her eyes were open or shut, all she could see was a beautiful baby boy cute as jackfruit and his ears wet with puss! That became the constant vision in her mind’s eye! That was her doing too, isn’t it? How is it going to be resolved?

 

She was suffering inexplicable pain in her heart. Lakshmanam was writing letters and asking, “How are you? Has your desire been fulfilled yet?” What could say? She had not told him about possibility of the puss in the baby’s ear, and that was better. Had he known, he would have made her eat onions, regardless how many people protested. In such matters he could be very aggressive. As she recollected her husband’s range of capabilities, she got goose bumps all over.

 

It was vaikunta ekadasi day (special holiday for Hindus). Ravanjamma and Alivelu fasted per tradition. Since Andallu reached full term, Alivelu cooked food only for Andallu and Venkatacharyulu.

 

In the evening, Venkatacharyulu said to his mother, “Amma, I am taking the cart to Palem. The movie Bhakta Ambarisha is playing. Do you want to come?”

 

Andallu was elated at the mention of a movie by her brother as if she found something that had been lost for a while. “Yes, amma, you should go. You’ll be back by eleven anyways,” She said eagerly.

 

“I’ll stay with Andallu. Yes, attha, you go,” Alivelu said, being the daughter-in-law in the house, she felt it was her duty.

 

Andallu insisted over and again. She said, “Just go, you both should go. What is the harm if you two are gone for a few hours? If I am not here, you would have to take turns anyways. But now I am here, and I will take care of the house. You go,” and convinced them—both of them to leave together. After they were gone, she closed the front door and went to the neighbor Sastrulu’s house through the back door.

 

Baamma garu invited her tenderly. “Come dear, come. Sit down,” she said, peeling onions.

 

“What are you doing, baamma garu? Where is Raji? She is not home?” Andallu said.

 

“Would she be here? As soon as your brother Venkati brought the cart, she jumped in and sat in it … Who knows when god will give you relief?” she said, by way of comforting Andallu.

 

“What are making for supper?” asked Andallu casually.

 

“See these? Making soup with these saligrams (precious stones of worship),” she said, pointing to the onions in her hand.

 

Something on the stove made a hissing noise.

 

“You sit here. I think the rice is boiling over. I’ll remove the excess water and be back,” said bamma garu and went into the kitchen.

 

Andallu grabbed a few onion bits, hid them in her sari palloo and said, “Baamma garu, my back is hurting. I’ll go home and lie down,” and left quickly.

 

“Wait, I’ll give you coconut sweet balls,” bamma’s words vanished into the thin air.

 

Andallu took a bit of thick tamarind juice in a pan, added a little jaggery, onion pieces, green chilli pieces, salt and turmeric and put it on the stove and sat there fanning the flames. As it started simmering, she held her two hands over the dish to catch the flavor, brought them to her nose and enjoyed the aroma, swallowing the water in her mouth. She kept thinking—the soup must simmer first then cool down and then she should eat to her fill!

 

Just below the patio, the parijatham buds were opening one after another. The almond tree in the backyard shook its leaves as if it understood the circumstances and her condition. In that breezy evening, the potato and onion fry, pesarattu, pakora, and lentil chutney were hovering around in steel plates in front of her eyes. Andallu suddenly curled up; something in her stomach hurt; she felt like throwing up. Finally, she understood the main problem.

 

Quickly she took the hot dish from the stove, emptied it into the rim under the almond tree, and lay back against the jute-rope cot. She called bamma garu for help.

 

That evening, Ravanjamma garu and Alivelu returned from the movies and found a blue-collar midwife Veeramma giving bath to the baby boy, the size of a juicy mango fruit and bamma garu tying a piece of cloth around the new-mother’s waist.

 

Alivelu was overwhelmed as she watched her newly born nephew. Andallu, eyelids wavering lightly and she brimming with the love of a new mother, said to Alivelu, “Vadina, check the baby’s ear. Is there puss?”

 

The words, spoken in a feeble voice got lost in the resounding voice of Ravanjamma; she was saying, “Where is the metal dish, Andallu?” The voice sounded like a bell.

 

Alivelu could not hear Andallu’s question.

 

Lakshmanam received the telegram sent by his brother-in-law Venkatacharyulu. At once, he rushed all his colleagues to the hotel and ordered onion pesarattu and pakora for everybody.

 

“Lakshmanam, you’re celebrating your son’s birth, you should feed us sweets but not this hot stuff that scorches our tongues. Come, bring us sweets,” his friends said.

 

“You finish these items first. We’ll have sweets too,” Lakshmanam said, overwhelmed and bubbling like the sea.

His friends could not figure out why Lakshmanam ordered those items; yet, it was lunch time and they all were starving. So, they ate.

Lakshmanam could see the satisfied face of Andallu and the baby vaguely. He smiled to himself contentedly.

[End]

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, June 2010.

 

Empty Head! (story)

by Nidadavolu Malathi. The tiny ripples keep moving even as they are soothing to the eyes, cool, calm, jaunty, and in unique patterns. A baby fish shot up as if from nowhere into the air, up some six inches and dived back into the water. At the spot where it fell, waves spread out in circles as if marking its space. I kept staring, my glued to the spot – will it jump up from the same spot again? Or, will it shoot for another spot? How high this time? For the moment, the fish got all my attention, one hundred percent!

I heard a bit of a rustle on my left and turned in the that direction.  Ten yards away from me, a ten-year-old boy, settling down on the shore with his his fishing gear, totally preoccupied with his work on hand. He carefully opened the bait box, picked a worm which appears to have the most prospects of enticing a fish, stuck it on to the hook, surveyed the body of water for a good spot to throw the fish line. He moves the pole as, probably that’s the next step. I have no idea how fish are caught. Can he really identify a spot for catching fish or is he just going through the process as he was trained to do? How will he know the fish took his bait? What will he do to get the fish’s attention? I was mulling over these questions.

I was also admiring his steady gaze. He certainly is very patient, which we don’t see in children of his age nowadays in. Will he catch at least one fish today? I wish he will, for my sake, if not his! I am getting involved in the process of catching fish; that is how I am feeling at least. I am not sure whether I am worried about the boy or the fish.

“Enough of that, let’s go,” said my Head.

“What is the rush? Like some earthshaking agenda is waiting for us,” I said.

“How long are you going to watch him? I am bored, I want to go.”

“Wait a few more minutes. I want to see who wins—the fish escapes or the boy catches.”

“The boy is stupid and so are the fish. If he wants fish, he can go to the market and buy some. If the fish wants food, they have plenty of weeds and germs in the water, ready to eat. Why go for a bait on the pole? And of course, your brain is the worst, for sitting here and watching them.”

“Right, you are the only one with brains, nobody else in this world is smart enough for you,” I snarled.

“There is no life if you sit in one place like this, no change, no action. I hate being stuck in one place, without movement, annoying, very annoying. Frankly, whether that boy catches fish or not is a very minute matter in this vast universe,” my Head kept hollering.

I hate this Head of mine. It has no patience, no balance at all. Hum, not a penny in income, not a moment of peace. Forget the income, why not enjoy the peace at least? … Monkeys in the forest are better than this Head, chi, chhi

“Ha ha, okay, why don’t get a monkey’s head and stick it in on your shoulders?”
“Ha ha ha, why get another? I already have one, don’t I, I mean the way he hop around? … Never mind. Tell me where do you want to go?”
“Let’s go home, we can watch TV.”

“What is there to watch at this time of day?”

“Plenty. Didn’t the TV provider say we are getting 250 channels?”

“He did but what he did not tell is, out of the 250 channels he had promised, half of them are the same, like Channel 40 and 240. Then take away the channels which air paid programming, which if you ask me is a double wham for us.”

“What do you mean?”

“First, we pay the provider, which means we are subsidizing the commercial, since whoever is doing the commercial pays the provided and he also has to collect from us, the consumers. Again, when we buy the product, we are paying the business again, that is actually three times.”

“Are you going to get to the point in this decade?”
“The point is there are less than one dozen channels that make any sense at all and that we may watch. Oh, I must warn you of reruns and the commercials within the shows running for 4 or 5 minutes at a stretch, hopeless, if you ask me. They’re filling our heads with trash,” I yelled back at Head.

“It is not trash, that is information we need to know. That’s education.”

You see, this is the reason I am annoyed with this Head. It not only knows everything, but also insists that it all-round knowledgeable. This Head has answers for everything.

“Let’s wait for couple more minutes, just two more minutes. Maybe, he will catch a huge fish in the next 30 seconds.”

Head is annoyed now. “I can’t sit in one place like a stupid stone. If you don’t move right now, I will leave,” Head said.

“Go, go away,” I said. But I had no choice but to follow its orders. Returned home and turned on the Tennis channel.

“I wonder what is happening at the Democratic convention,” Head said, as if thinking aloud.

I flipped the channel. Some famous democrat is telling the participants what a great country this is, what a great leaders we are … uh, like they don’t know!

“Wonder what is on channel 9.”

Flip.

“Commercial? Let’s check the tennis score.”

Flip.

Serena is breezing through. …

“I am not huge fan of Fox news but let’s see what they’ve got to say.”

Flip.

We have to protect our Catholic values. Abortion is sin. We must not let these liberals take over. This President does not believe in conservative values. …”

“Naaaaa, let’s go back to tennis.”

Flip.

6-3, 6-6 … Wow, both the players are killing! What an amazing game …

“This is not going to end soon. Let’s see what the Mayor says on Channel 103.”

Psh. I am choking for all the vagaries of this Head. I turned off the TV and picked up a book I couldn’t remember where I left last time. Never mind. This is not a novel, don’t have to worry about where I left. The book is Patanjali’s Yoga sutras with Sanskrit text and English commentary. That is not easy reading.

Started reading Sanskrit text, which I must admit is a struggle. I have studied Sanskrit in college, that puts the date back to the fifties era. Then the English commentary, which I can’t say I am not comfortable but I understand the religious texts in Telugu better since I grew up with that vocabulary. Anyway, I started reading the English commentary and tried to translate it into Telugu in my mind.

प्रमाणविर्ययविकल्पनिद्रास्म्रुतय:

pramāṇa – correct perception; viparyaya – incorrect perception; vikalpa – imagination; nidrā – sleep; smṛtayaḥ – memory.

They are correct perception, incorrect perception, imagination, sleep and memory.

By the time I figured out the Telugu version of this one line, I finished two glasses of water. It didn’t go well to say the least. I checked on the Internet if I could find a Telugu version but no luck. Most of them are in English. The ones I found or rather thought I was getting a Telugu version, are hopelessly messed up. On one site, the fonts are not recognized by my browser. I am also a bit uncomfortable with commentaries by western scholars. Not that I have something against them, but instinctually I prefer commentary by an Indian. I was flabbergasted by my discovery. Don’t Telugu people read these ancient texts in Telugu anymore?

“Glad I didn’t say anything. Enough of that heavy stuff, I can’t take it,” Head started whining again.

I couldn’t control myself anymore. “You are wimp. You can’t stay on any one topic, not even for 15 minutes, no concentration, no interest, nothing. I am beginning to wonder about your integrity too. Oh, God, help me, I don’t want this head,” I yearned in exasperation.

“Uhh, same here. I am not crazy about you either. I’m leaving,” Head said, snapped off my shoulders, and scurried away.

Ahh, what a relief, feeling 14 pounds lighter! In case you’re wondering, my daughter told me average head weighs 14 pounds and I know I am average, my head is average.

***

Chief Editor of a prominent newspaper phoned his senior reporter.

The senior reporter was napping after a sumptuous South Indian style meal his wife served him. She woke him and told him about the phone call. It is a work day, and it is lunch time. He has right to be home! Trying to hide his drowsy voice, he coughed as if something stuck in his throat, and said, “Hello, Sir,” with his eyes half closed, posing a yoga posture.

Chief Editor said, “Somebody noticed a head near Peerlagutta on the outskirts of our town. Go, find out about it, write a report and send it to me ASAP. Get a good photograph of the head also.”

“Yes sir,” the senior reporter said, dropped the handset on the floor and dozed off. After an hour or so, he woke, walked to his desk, crafted a story in five minutes. He called the staff photographer and told him to go to Peerlagutta and take a picture of the “latest local wonder”, the head. Photographer said “Yessaar,” dutifully, pulled out an old photograph of a dead person he had taken several decades ago, separated the head, worked on it a bit using his latest technical skills and emailed it to the senior reporter.

Three other local papers also borrowed the news and the photograph from the senior reporter and published on the front page. The headline on the front page read, “Incredible! On the outskirts of Acchayyapalem village, a speaking, moving head appears!” The news spread quickly past the bounds of the village, the city, the state and the country to the entire world.

The entire world has come to know that, “in India, a living, speaking Head, knowledgeable in Hinduism, has incarnated. Several pundits dusted their chronicles and concluded that it is the Head of a highly revered Siddha, who had performed austere penance at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains some 300 years ago.”

The news caught on like the landing on moon or birth of the royal heir to British throne. This being the age of globalization, major countries vied with each other for the possession of that unique head.

The British Prime Minister sent a memo to the Indian Prime Minister stating, “The Oriental Library in Britain is the oldest and most famous library. Our library is the most appropriate place for that living, breathing head. Deliver it to us post-haste.”

The German Chancellor sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India, stating, “We have a history with India.  But for the German scholars, who had identified numerous important Sanskrit works, translated them into English and brought to light, nobody would have heard about the greatness of Inda. Not even your own scholars had no idea until we had brought them to light. Therefore, it is only natural that the Head should stay with us. Send it to us immediately.”

“America is the number one country in the world. You will never find another businessman that could put the right price on your asset. I am sending a specially equipped jet with six highly qualified physicians specialized in this kind organs, will arrive in Andhra Pradesh within twenty-four hours. You make arrangements to deliver the Head to them without much ado. You have our assurance that we will take the best care of that head, take every precautionary measure to protect it from bacteria, and preserve it for posterity,” telegraphed a multi-billionaire to Andhra Pradesh government. He also made it clear that his request was not to be taken lightly, well not in so many words, but you will know if you see his language.

***

In America, the election mania has taken over like a massive tornado. Each party has been scrambling for the best candidate to become the next president. A dozen wannabe candidates have started pulling down each other’s reputation and whatever goodwill he or she may have.

“What does it matter whom we pick. All we need is a man who puts his signature where we tell him to put,” said the party president.

“That’s why I brought this head,” said the multi-billionaire, pointing to the Head in a bullet-proof, antibacterial bubble, he had brought with him.

All the committee members looked at the head and jeered, “What the hell is that?” They all hissed in unison, “Are you out of your mind?”

“No, you don’t understand. Test it? Ask anything you consider important.”

“Okay, Mr. Head, what is your opinion on the economic policies of America?”

“Whatever you decide, I guess.”

“Do you consider current American policy towards Israel beneficial to our party?”

“I go along with your suggestion.”

“We object to moving American jobs to India. What do you say?”

“I agree.”

“Do you think we should embrace the yoga practice of Indians?”

“I wouldn’t call it Indian yoga. We can develop our own system and call it yoga.”

“Do you agree we have adopted the best policy in matters of women’s health? Women must consult and obtain our permission for any medical care she will be needing, no exceptions.”

“Brilliant.”

“Women’s earnings should never exceed 50% of men’s.”

“Of course. You see they are wo-men, a wo-man needs one more syllable wo to make her a complete person. It is only appropriate she gets only one half of what a man makes.”

The committee members looked at each other and nodded. This You seem to be the perfect Head to be president. They have understood that they can put whatever they want in that head, it serves their purpose perfectly.

“Now, just one more question.”

“What?”

“This is just a head. Where is the hand to sign.”

“Oh, that’s not a problem. This head is from India, you see. This is computer era and, this is from Andhra Pradesh, the home of programmers!. It will write its own program and create its own signature.”

Done!

***

I stare at the empty space in front of my window, my heart is wailing quietly. I am worried, wondering how my Head is managing on foreign soil, poor thing! Had I inculcated some plausible values in that head of mine while I was young, maybe, it would not have gotten into this kind of situation. What a misery!

(End)

(July 28, 2013)

 

Humor in Telugu fiction by Nidadavolu Malathi

Sometimes I try to impress my daughter, an American-born and raised, with our Telugu humor. I tell her a joke and she laughs, hihihihi. I am not sure she got it. So I ask her, “Are you laughing because you found it funny or because I thought it was funny.” She narrows her eyes, looks at me, and says, “both.”

Humor in Telugu homes is distinctly different from western humor. In recent times, a bit of our funny bone seems to be lost due to modern sensibilities of being polite. While in the west, people have come to limit humor to the stage and screen, such as standup comedy and sitcoms, it is all pervasive in Telugu homes. At least, it used to be so. I have chosen three writers I grew up with to make my case.

Bhanumati, apart from her unparalleled stature in the movie industry, made her mark as a writer of fiction, writer of humor at that. Bhanumati has written a few stories of serious nature also, but it is her mother-in-law character that has become the hallmark of her writing. While almost every critic agrees that Bhanumati’s creation of the mother-in-law character is unique, it is often left just at that, that she is hilarious. It may sound illogical but humor fiction is rarely taken seriously. More often than not, the message is lost between laughs. Bhanumati’s stories are one such example. The celebrated author did more than than create a unique character. Her mother-in-law stories reflect her belief in tradition and family values. Her stories brim with her belief in god, astrology, and family values.

Bhanumati draws her humor primarily from situations and the human ideosyncrasies; and, she never missed a chance to take a jab at our customs and beliefs. That is not however to be interpreted as disrespect for tradition. Bhanumati’s talent in creating humorous situations speaks of her keen eye for the incongruities in human behavior. One good example is in her Attagaru – avakaaya (Attagaru and pickles). In general, attagaru does not let anyone see her food plate; she sits on the floor with her back to the rest of the world, and facing the wall. “The only way one could know what she was eating was to jump out of the wall in front of her, like Lord Narasimha,” the author comments. For those who are not familiar with the reference, lord Narasimha was one of the ten incarnations; he jumped out of a pillar to prove his existence to a non-believer, demon king Hiranyaksha. The parallel is a stretch but the point is the overextended shield her mother-in-law would create for her food in the name of madi–one more custom in Brahmin families.

And then, author goes on to describe a second instance, the family members will know of what she’s eating; that is when she moves the pickles jar. The story goes to say: “The smells of her pickles extended beyond the kitchen walls and into the living room. One day, my husband sat down to eat, along with atta garu. She moved the pickles jar; and the smells exploded and filled the entire house.”

Her husband blames it on the narrator and her incompetence as a housewife. “Huh! What’s that smell? Is it the oranges’ gone bad? Maybe not, uh, what a stench! Maybe the maid didn’t clean the area after washing the dishes,” my husband started yelling. Then he turned to me and said with a grimace, “Didn’t you notice that? What’re you doing all day sitting at home? Can’t you take care of the cleanliness, at least?”  I was nearly dead by the time I’d finished explaining to him that he was wrong in his assumption about the smell. (Bhanumati kathanikalu).  Taken out of context, the husband’s comment could ruffle a few women. In Bhanumati’s story, the narrator is the having the last laugh; readers might even see a wink and a nod from her husband. Let’s not forget that he was ridiculing his mother’s pickles.

The incongruities in our actions and the eccentricities in human nature are great stuff for humor. And, our beliefs and gods are no exception for a good laugh as you’ll see in some of the irreverent comments in Bhanumati’s story. A few common phrases such as apachaaram [sacrilege] are used sometimes seriously and at other times flippantly to make fun of those who use it seriously. Bhanumati makes best use of this practice. and “tapping on one’s own cheeks” as a way of tendering an apology (lempalu vesukonu, lempalesukonu) is another phrase used in her stories. In other words, even gods and the sanctity surrounding gods are no exception in the realm of humor. Attagaru refers to Lord Venkateswara as Venkanna (nickname) and compares him to a neighbor in physical appearance and make up.

Bhanumati used laughter itself as core theme in two stories, which are serious in nature. In jeevitamlo agaathaalu [the depth of darkness in life] and telivitetala viluvalu [The Value of Intelligence], both the protagonists, Rambabu and Rao, laugh incessantly, much to the dismay of the narrator.

In the first story, jeevitamlo agaathaalu, the reader would come to know at the end that Rambabu was laughing to hide his pain; his wife was a hysteria patient and there was nothing he could do about it. In the second story, Rao laughs recurrently but this time it was just his habit. Additionally, in the latter story, the narrator’s husband and Rao call each other “fool” and neither was offended by this name calling. The story ends with the narrator commenting, “I stood there watching those two fools.”

Bhanumati’s respect for tradition is evident in her use of the proper names. In our homes, people are often referred to by relational terminology–somebody’ son, somebody’s daughter-in-law, and somebody’s daughter-in-law’s daughter-in-law; and this true even when two persons are cousins, two or three times removed.

As all of us, Telugu people, Bhanumati would not mind laughing at herself. In her story, pedda aakaaraalu, chinna vikaaraalu [big people and small oddities], she gives a hilarious description of her fear of lizards. Bhanumati writes:

Usually those who are not scared of lizards make fun of those who’re scared of them. You know the popular proverb, “Cat is having the time of his life while the rat is running for his life!”

I am one of those rats. … Lizard is my enemy for life. I’ll not walk into a room if there is a lizard on the wall. If I have to, I’ll ask one of the servants to remove it, and then enter the room slowly watching every nook and corner to make sure that it’s gone. Under unavoidable circumstances, I’ll enter the room cautiously, as if I were walking into a lion’s cage, tiptoeing around and watching it’s every move. We two move around in different directions like two planets. No matter how far I am from it, my eyes spot its presence automatically. Then my body moves like a robot in the opposite direction.

As a final note, Bhanumati has captured a wide circle of readership with her easy-going style and by telling us to laugh freely. Further discussion follows.

Humor has its time and place. what’s funny for us Telugu people may not be funny for people in other cultures. Remember the popular saying in America? If someone slips and falls, it’s funny and if you slip and fall, it’s tragedy. That’s not the case in Telugu homes, at least, not in the fifties and sixties.

In the nineteen fifties and sixties, the three stalwarts in Telugu humor writing that come to my mind are Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao, Mullapudi Venkataramana and Bhanumati Ramakrishna were the writers I grew up with. Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao was already an established writer by then and Mullapudi Venkataramana was making his name in the early fifties. Chronologically, Bhanumati Ramakrishna was a contemporary of Venkataramana and started writing fiction a little later.

All the three writers have showcased the laughter in Telugu homes as never before.

Bhanumati mentioned that she had been inspired by Narasimha Rao’s Kantham kathalu (Stories of Kantham, narrator’s wife), published in 1944. She also mentioned that Mullapudi Venkataramana had encouraged her. Interestingly, Mullapudi Venkataramana dedicated his anthology of short stories, Radha and Gopalam (1965), to Bhanumati. Bhanumati published her anthology, Attagari Kathalu in 1966.

In regard to the themes, I am not sure if Narasimha Rao had written about topics other than familial relationships. Bhanumati wrote a few stories, about five or six I believe, depicting the tragic situations in life. Mullapudi Venkataramana has written about almost every aspect – politics, society, entertainment (movies), and children, and also critiques, and he continues to write.

I chose to discuss three stories based on family values and domestic bliss as depicted by the three writers.

Like any other custom or tradition, humor in a given culture develops from its own environment. In that, demographics do play a huge role. When several members of a family – aged parents, sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren – are thrown in together under one roof (Brady Bunch style), good sense of humor becomes a major part of the skills for coexistence, peaceful or not. In Telugu homes, we tease each other, poke fun at each other, and call each other names; and at the end of the day, all’s well; no offense intended, none taken.

Secondly, with the progress of civilization, the code of conduct has put a rigid barrier between people and clouded our sense of humor to a certain degree, I think. But if one wants to have good hearty laugh, one must be prepared to laugh and be laughed at with equal ease. That’s a prerequisite to foster one’s sense of humor. These stories illustrate this point.

In Nenu, Kantham” (Kantham and I), the couple appear to be mature, although the husband does act immature at times. Most of the humor in this story is anchored in the husband’s miserable experience with eating out.

In Radha’s debt, the couple, Radha and Gopalam, are newlyweds, and between the two, Radha is the level-headed;  Gopalam acts like a juvenile. Gopalam’s insistence that Radha owed him for the expenses he had incurred to get attention prior to marriage itself is humorous.

In Attaa-Kodaleeyam, (A story of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law), the story revolves round Attagaru (mother-in-law) with Kodalu (daughter-in-law) as her sidekick. Attagaru is a charming, naive, traditional woman who’s also a busybody, which often lands her in trouble; Kodalu, the narrator, is also traditional in that she’s respectful toward her husband and his mother (mother-in-law), and steps in only when her services as a mediator/arbitrator are needed. She appears to be enjoying a private joke of her own in the process. She never talks back, never offers to take matters into her own hand unless and until it becomes absolutely necessary. In the story under reference, the story is woven around a trip to Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati.

Mullapudi Venkataramana has successfully created humorous instances using “debt” as core theme in several stories, including a series, Runaananda lahari, in which his play upon words is hilarious. In the story under discussion, Radha’s debt, Gopalam surprises his wife by asking her to pay back a loan she’d never promised; she was not even aware that she owed him money. Soon enough she turned around, caught up with him, and proved he had owed her too. The theme is frivolous on the surface. To me, the story reflects the amicable relationship between husband and wife.

While in Kantham and I, the narrator was depicted as being an egotist, conscious of his status as husband, in Radha and Gopalam, the husband and wife behave like friends, teasing each other for the fun of it.

The incongruities in our actions and the eccentricities in human nature are great stuff for humor. And, our beliefs and gods are no exception for a good laugh as you’ll see in some of the irreverent comments in Bhanumati’s story.

 

Humor in Kantham’s story comes from everyday events and  interaction between husband and wife. They do care about each other, yet the husband could not take the apparent disrespect from his wife. To me it seems to be a social comment on the irrational behavior of men and their ego trips.

Bhanumati also, like Naraasimha Rao, creates hilarious scenes from everyday life; but, unlike Narasimha Rao, she narrates them while remaining complacent. Secondly, unlike the narrator in Kantham stories, the narrator in attagaru stories stays in control. We do not see her laughing but on rare occasions, the “I” of these stories seem to enjoy a private joke of her own while playing the innocent bystander.

NAMES AND FORMS OF ADDRESS:

A brief note on the names is in order here. Proper names are often abbreviated. More importantly, the relational terminology is used in place of proper names, which could be confusing for non-native speakers, or when the same term is used with reference to more than one person.

For instance, in Attaa-Kodaleeyam there were three daughters-in-law and a son (the original attagaru’s son and the husband of the narrator/Kodalu). Mother refers to him as abbayi (by attagaru), and the narrator refers to him as maavaaru(meaning ‘my husband’ but his real name was never given in the story. In fact, in this particular story, all the characters were referred to only in relation to each other, even when they were cousins two or three times removed. This usage of relational terminology in the case of distant relatives could be a way of bringing them together and of reinforcing family values. For the purpose of clarification in this discussion, I decided to leave Attagaru as is, she being the protagonist. The story is narrated in first person by Kodalu (daughter-in-law) and, I used Kodalu as a proper name for her. Her co-daughter-in-law (todikodalu) and her daughter-in-law (kodalu of todikodalu) also figure in to the story. In fact, Bhanumati makes fun of this relational terminology in another story, vavi varasalu).

Another angle to the proper names, as a form of address, is “calling each other names”. Bhanumati takes it to a new level in her story, telivitetala viluvalu [The Worth of Intellect]. The title seem to be a little off base. The core theme is the form of address as used by two friends, (narrator’s husband and his friend, Rao) to address each other as ‘fool’ and laugh at each other. Rao’s son-in-law gets involved in a scooter accident and Rao tells the narrator about the accident with a big laugh; and again when the narrator and her husband to go to the hospital to visit the son-in-law, the two friends talk about the accident, laughing and calling each other, “fool”. The narrator stands there “watching the two fools”.

In Radha-Gopalam, the author gives the characters acceptable proper names. Additionally, he uses a few perfectly legitimate proper names like Ramanatham or Gurunatham as punch lines. Further discussion of this is given in the story.

In Nenu-Kantham, the husband is the narrator; his real name is never mentioned.

Second person singular pronoun has two forms in Telugu, meeru and  nuvvu. Within a family, seniors who are respected (father, grandfather, for instance) are addressed as ‘meeru‘. This is not a hard and fast rule though. Kodalu always addresses Attagaru as ‘meeru’ and Attagaru addresses Kodalu as ‘nuvvu‘. Wife addresses husband as ‘meeru‘ and husband addresses wife as ‘nuvvu‘. This protocol is maintained in the stories of the fifties and sixties. The peculiar part however is, a kodalu (the co-daughter-in-law in Attaa – Kodaleeyam) or a wife (in Radha – Gopalam) may address the other person as ‘meeru‘ and still engage in a lively bickering and pour insults on each other, and thus adding one more shade of humor to it.

Regarding technique, the three stories present ordinary events in a humorous light. In Kantham story, the narrative is tight: it opens with a husband upset with his wife; he refuses to eat at home to punish his wife; and the punishment turns out to be his, yet he acts like he has the upper hand. It is not easy create humor in such a negative atmosphere. The story is told in a straight forward manner, no unexpected twists and no shock value incidents. Narasimha Rao succeeds in bringing the funny side up, that’s the strength of an established humor writer.

In the Mother-in-law story, there is more than one plot. The story opens with a proposed pilgrimage to Tirupati by car, and as usual, the two main characters–mother-in-law and daughter-in-law–are thrown in together to the exclusion of the son/husband. The second plot includes a second daughter-in-law (todikodalu. I think Bhanumati did this on purpose. In general, the daughter-in-law’s relationship with her mother-in-law is not confrontational in any of her stories under the running title, Attagaari kathalu. Thus the author may have created the second daughter-in-law to reflect another side, a more common notion, a kind of love-hate relationship. They both get into heated arguments in one moment and are affable in the next moment. Notably the narrator (Kodalu) herself never talked back to the mother-in-law and the mother-in-law never put down the daughter-in-law in this story or in any other story. And then, there is one more subplot, the arranged marriage; arranged by the mother-in-law and the second daughter-in-law in between their heated arguments and boisterous laughter. The narrator however does not lose touch with reality. The reality is “The two women are going to meet like two rival planets on a combat zone in the month of magham” (11th month in lunar calendar). In a way, the three plots make the story less tight, compared to the Kantham story, but entertaining all the same.

The story is, as indicated by the title, about relationship between Atta and Kodalu. The incidents follow in a lighter vein. The story of Radha and Gopalam takes this idea of a theme narrated in a lighter vein further. In fact, it is a story about sweet nothings. The underlying message is the secret of marital bliss. As long as a couple can laugh together, and at each other without malice, there is no cause for complaint in a marriage. All’s well that ends well. Most of the humor in this story, unlike the other two, comes from its language and the adolescent behavior of the couple.

[End]

Related articles: Kantham and I, A Story of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and Radha’s debt

(Originally published on thulika.net, April 2006)