Tag Archives: Telugu kathalu

The Small Wheel

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

“The deeyivoo (District Educational Officer) saar is coming.”

The school peon Venkanna usually arrives at the headmaster’s house at six in the morning. That day he woke up at midnight and started getting ready because the “deeyivoo saar” is coming. The “deeyivoo saar” is the District Educational Officer at regional level who conducts the inspection of schools once a year.

His wife Simmachalam did not share his enthusiasm.
“Who cares whether it is deeyivoo saar or his grandpa. They don’t give a damn about you. Here you are going nuts for a over week now,” she snapped turning over to the other side on the mattress.
“How would you know,” Venkanna responded, a little annoyed. He put on the shirt he got it ironed last night. It cost him 12 paise.

He could see his father in front him, wavering like a cobra. Eight years back Venkanna moved to the city. At that time his father told him, “Hey, Venka! We are not going to raise some two story building by ducking our duty and playing hooky. For us there is pride in working hard, have a measly meal and sleep under the tree.”

That is why Venkanna raised a beautiful garden around the school although it was not in his job description; there was no special allowance for that job; the only word from the headmaster was a nod and a cluck. Last year when the schools inspector came with his wife, Venkanna gave her fresh blossomed marigolds in a lotus leaf.

She took the flowers and said “lovely” in English. And she smiled kindly. The Inspector took the hint and asked him, “So do you do all the gardening?” There was a touch of kindness in his tone.
Venkanna was ecstatic. “Yassaar,” he nearly choked as he replied. He felt like the movie producer whose very first picture celebrated the 100the day showing. The garden feasted his eyes like a gorgeous woman in her prime of life.

“Good. See, our country prospers only when young people like you work hard,” the Inspector said.
“Yesyas. He iza very industriousend sinsearu,” said Sarmaji, smiling.
Venkanna felt thrilled one more time.

He was also in the picture taken at the end of the day. That picture is still there in his hut, hanging low from the beam, and hitting Simmachalam’s forehead each time she moves around and thereby receiving a few choice blessings from her.

Venkanna took that job in the city because he felt that a school job is respectable. He thought that that way he’d get a chance to see the elite, could exchange a few words with them, etc.; not because he had no life in his village. And he thinks his move has paid off. On one occasion, a movie star who played the villain roles came to visit the school. He was not like a villain at all! Everybody said that he was quite a gentleman. Venkanna agreed. On another occasion a minister came to visit. That day the hustle and bustle in the school was almost like the Mangalagiri Temple car festival. Venkanna was also in the photo taken at the time the minister laid the foundation stone for the building. The minister even had a kind word for Ventanna.

He could count such experiences on his fingers. Simmachalam does not understand this.

“Why can’t we stay in our village and farm our little strip of land,” she questions with puzzled looks.
“What is there in farming. One time flooding is enough to wipe out everything clean,” says Venkanna.
“Didn’t my brother say that we haven’t had a grain in 3 years?” he adds. “And why should we believe him?”
“Well, because we have to believe one man or one God. Who said that? I think it is that movie star Jaggayya.”
She doesn’t know all the intricacies of a school administration, poor thing, he told himself, feeling a little sorry for her ignorance.

Simmachalam watched him leave whistling. She also got up to go to work.
A little smile spread on her lips.
***

Sarmaji hit the roof as soon as he spotted Venkanna at the gate. “I told you to come at dawn and you show up now,” and then he turned toward the kitchen, “Is the coffee ready yet?”. He turned again to Venkanna again and said, “Go, go. Quick. Get a horse-cart. Not that lame horse. I know it is your wife’s brother’s father-in-law’s cart. That horse moves like a snail. Get Viraswamy’s cart.” Sarmaji continued issuing orders while fixing the pleats on his dhoti and putting on a clean shirt.

By that time Venkanna is long gone. So he turned again to the kitchen and continued giving orders to his wife. He was going bonkers for over a week about this DEO’s visit. He got the entire school building washed as if it were Pongal festival. Made sure that the cobwebs are cleared from all corners. All the library books that scattered all over the town were brought back. The walls were whitewashed. The black boards received a new coat of paint. The falling fence around the garden was fixed upright.

For each of these jobs he had to bellow like a small train engine. He told Elamanda to paint the dark patches on the exterior wall. Elamanda brought a bucketful whitewash, went through a few gestures of painting as if he were playing a role on the stage and disappeared behind the walls to smoke a beedi.

“If you keep disappearing like this how can we get the job done,” Sarmaji asked him with a frown.
“Just for a second, saar, just for one puff” he replied humbly.

Somehow Sarmaji got him to pick up the brush again and turned around only to see that Venkanna was nowhere to be found. He told Venkanna in no uncertain terms that beautifying the garden comes only after painting the black boards. Assuming that Venkanna was in the garden, he sent Puttanna to bring him back in to the building. He waited and waited. There was no sign of either of the two peons. Gritting his teeth, Sarmaji went to find them himself. He found them in the south wing where the first Assistant was making them move book shelves.

A few weeks ago the first Assistant had all the library shelves moved to the science lab since there were no books in the library. He was using them to stock the science equipment and other stuff. Now, since the library books are being gathered and brought back to the library, the shelves need to go back to the library.
Sarmaji has just about had it. “How come you need only these two idiots all the time. Didn’t I tell you to put the lab attenders to work also?” He said swallowing his anger like a bitter pill and issuing an order in the form of a question.”

“Attenders, sir? Where are they? One of them went to fetch your children. And the other went to your house. He said your wife wanted to run an errand for her”. There was a note of satisfaction in his tone–the kind one feels after settling a long overdue account. It was bothering him for a long time. The headmaster won’t let the peons go to the assistant’s house.
“How long does it take to fetch the children? These fellows take two hours for a 5 minute job. Why couldn’t you tell them to return soon. Do I have to mention that detail as well? Of course. The world has to think I am a heartless despot and you all model citizens.”

Sarmaji left growling like a ferocious animal.

The first assistant was confused, failing to see the connection between his words and the headmaster’s reaction. By the time the arrangements were completed almost all of them showed the Shakespearean face. No matter how attentive they were to details, there was always something still incomplete. By the time Sarmaji finished the coffee the younger daughter gave him, he saw Venkanna, along with the horse-cart and Ramulu holding the straps. Since Sarmaji was ready, he got into the cart. “How come it took so long,” he said as if it were a formality to yell at Venkanna.

“Viraswamy’s cart broke down. And you said ‘no’ to my brother-in-law’s cart. It took all this time to track down Ramulu,” answered Venkanna. He replied because it was his duty to reply. He wasn’t sure if Sarmaji cared to hear what he has to say.

Ramulu’s horse has no physical disabilities. But it is not broken yet. Ramulu and the horse were still new to each other. He walloped his whip and jumped on to the cart seat. The horse in protest completed on full circle right where he was. After a few minutes of struggle all of them were still at the same spot. Ramulu got off and was trying to explain the directions to the horse; the horse started walking backward!

In Sarmaji’s mind fear replaced anger. Panic struck and he started uttering several sounds expressing surprise, anger, fear and frustration. The script went somewhat like this:
“Hey, hey, ho, ho..”
“Stop, stop”
“What is this, a horse or a donkey?”
“This is what you’d get for the DEO?”
“Gosh!, what did I do to deserve this?”
“Should I jump out or stay put?”
The last line was not spoken but it was in his head. One of his legs stuck out from the back of the cart.

Ramulu kept reassuring him that there was nothing to be afraid of. He said the horse was a pancakalyani(God Indra’s). It’s only a matter of getting used to. Once he starts he will fly like a rocket…
Venkanna couldn’t decide he should take sides with whom.

While all the three thus got lost in their own monologue kind of words, they arrived at the railway station. They felt better after learning that the train was running two hours late. They were also happy that coffee in the thermos stayed in the thermos. The horse settled down chewing the cud.

Finally after two hours’ waiting, the DEO, his youngest daughter Saroja, his personal assistant and the peon got out of the train. Venkanna felt great being the first to meet the DEO among all the school peons. “Hey, why are you standing there like a flagpole. Get that suitcase and basket,” Sarmaji yelled at him. And he turned to the DEO and expressed his belief that they had a comfortable journey. Then they were lead to a kind of waiting room. While the DEO and his daughter were freshening up, Venkanna felt lost since he wasn’t sure how he could serve the coffee for so many people. The DEO’s peon did not offer to help Venkanna. He was maintaining his status.

Venkanna was jerked out of his train of thought by Sarmaji’s voice. He was cursing Venkanna for standing there like a lamppost and ordered him to serve coffee. Venkanna picked up the thermos like an accursed spirit. Still he did not know how to explain that there wasn’t enough coffee in the thermos for all of them.
Sarmaji looked at him growling one more time. There is a blame in those looks. They are saying I brought you because you are better among the lot. Those looks are saying “Oh, God! Why are you doing this?” The DEO was upset that Sarmaji and Venkanna were standing there staring at each other like the actors who forgot their lines on the stage. The daughter was annoyed for no reason. The first assistant intervened. He gestured to say that “Serve it only to the DEO and his daughter”.
The personal assistant pulled Venkanna aside and asked, “Can’t we get tea around here?”

Venkanna sincerely hoped that he could tea for this gentleman.

“No, sir. We don’t have a tea stall within 4 miles. As soon as we reach our village, I will make sure that you will get first class tea,” he said making the personal assistant sad and happy within same one minute.
Finally each struggling with their own thought, they all managed to arrive at the guesthouse.

Sarmaji noticed that the DEO is not pleased with the room. He turned to Venkanna and said, “Didn’t I tell you to get this room cleaned first thing in the morning,” and added as a compliment, “lazy buggers”. Venkanna was enjoying the moment–watching the daughter’s pleasure at the sight of the red hibiscus, which he himself put in the vase last night. So he was not upset by Sarmaji’s anger. Instead he convinced himself that “The saar, as an officer of the system, has his own problems and obviously forgot that Venkanna was with him (Sarmaji) since the crack of dawn”.

Sarmaji also got lost looking for an answer for some question the DEO raised. “Cant we get cigarettes here?” He wants Navycut. Sarmaji couldn’t tell the DEO that the only kind they can get here is Berkeley, or have to settle for beedi. So he ordered Venkanna. “Go, quick. Bring a tin of Navycut. Should be back as if you never left this place.”

Venkanna jumped on to his bike like a fighter-cock in the ring. He was hoping that he could find one or two cigarettes, if not a whole tin, in somebody’s pocket. He knows he can’t get even if he had a crystal ball. All that is on his mind at that moment is how happy the saar will be IF he can find some.

By mid-day he could find a half-packet in some small store. “You took half a day to bring 5 cigarettes,” Sarmaji yelled but there was no harshness in his voice. “Go home and get carrier meals. It is getting late.”

Venkanna hopped on his bike again and left. The madam has the food ready but there were no banana leaves to serve in. He had to hunt for leaves for another hour. By the time he got to the guesthouse, everybody there was boiling with hunger and anger. Venkanna scrambled through and quickly set the table. By the time they all finished eating it was three in the afternoon. Sarmaji told Venkanna to go home for his lunch and be back in five minutes.

Only he knows that he cannot get home in five minutes; God knows there is no time to eat. So he went to the fruit stall at bus stand, ate a bun and returned. It took ten minutes.
It was announced that the DEO will rest for the day and go on inspection of the school the following day. Venkanna was told to stay there waiting on the DEO.

The DEO’s daughter wanted to see the garden now. So inspection of the garden was scheduled for the same evening. The daughter picked as many flowers as she pleased. The DEO looked at the fresh vegetables with “approving” eyes. He pointed out his favorites without exactly saying so. He turned to Venkanna and said, “Very good”. His daughter sad, “Beautiful”. Venkanna nearly choked as he replied, “Namaskaram, saar and madam”.

In the evening he again brought carrier(food) from the headmaster’s home. It was 10:30 by the time they finished supper. Venkanna still hasn’t gotten permission to go to his home for his supper.

The DEO leaned back in the easy chair comfortably, and lighted a cigarette and flipped the burning matchstick to the area behind. The match stick fell on the plastic table cloth. There appeared a design automatically on the table cloth.

Sarmaji flared up pretty much like that table cloth. It was his. He got it from his home just to impress the DEO. “You scoundrel! How many times have I told you that you should always be alert. You will never learn. The only way you can learn is if you are fired. Alertness.” Then he turned to the DEO and said apologetically, “I told him, sir, yesterday to keep an ashtray here. Can’t he remember it when he brought the cigarettes at least?”

Venkanna did not say that he was never told about the ashtray.

The DEO said, sounding casual, “You must know how to manage these people. Fine him”. It was almost like preaching some sort of a universal philosophy. Sarmaji told Venkanna that he was fined five rupees. The reason: negligence of duty, he was further told.

The next day the DEO has inspected the classes, the school building, the laboratory, and the library. He showered praise: the school building is clean, the garden is beautiful, and the all the teachers appeared to be respectful. He shook hands with the headmaster and all the teachers. Gave his blessings to the young and advised them to work hard.

After putting the DEO and his gang on the train, the headmaster took a sigh of of relief. “Gosh, he’s gone. I could have easily performed the marriages for two girls,” he told himself. He also hoped that the DEO would not write a “bad repot” after all this stress and strain. Sarmaji proudly relayed DEO’s comments to his wife. The DEO said, “I should congratulate you”.

At the same time, Simmachalam was serving food for Venkanna, gave him a piece of pickle she got from madam’s house and saved for him. “You haven’t eaten for a week. At least now you sit, relax and eat well,” she told him with a touch of concern in her voice.
Venkanna took a bite of the pickle with great relish and went on narrating all the wonderful things that happened at school. “Can you imagine how happy the deeyivo saar was to see the garden; he praised it so much; he said very good. The young lady said oh, beautiful, lovely in English. The headmaster saar made me pack one basket full of flowers and two baskets full of vegetables to send with them. It seems he’d kill for green beans. And he also shook hands with the headmaster and all the teachers. A perfect gentleman!…”

Venkanna went on blabbering zealously.
Simmachalam was watching him and giggling.

There was only one detail Venkanna did not mention to Simmachalam. That he was fined five rupees the day before!

*****
(End)
Editorial note:
As a daughter of a school teacher and later as an administrator of a university library, I have come to know the low-class people– peons, janitors and maid servants. I was always impressed with their openness. I’ve also noticed the pride those low-class people have in their jobs, their big heart to forgive the transference of the frailties, fears and frustrations inherent in the middle-class moralists. And, at the end of the day, these small people enjoy their measly meal and sleep with content. How many of the middle class and the rich can say that?
Then there are questions: After we got our independence, we have democracy in place, have laws against untouchability professing equality, are working towards the eradication of the evils of caste system, and introduced western institutions in the name of progress. Instead of, or in addition to, higher castes now we have higher officials. Have we really progressed? Have things really changed? If so, for whom?

The award-winning Telugu story, chiru chakram has been published in Andhra jyothi weekly, April 2, 1971.

The Telugu original is available here

 

 

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)

 

Pawning the Sacred Thread by Dr. Kolakaluri Enoch

The caste differences did not stop Sastry and Obilesu from becoming good friends. Sastry was a
Brahmin and Obilesu an untouchable. They had been friends since their childhood. They went to
the same school, and started working in the same junior college; both were confirmed in their jobs.
Sastry was teaching Telugu and Obilesu teaching English.

Obilesu was confused when Sastry asked him for a loan of ten thousand rupees. He did not look up
to see Sastry’s face; did not say yes or no. Sastry went to his class. Obilesu sat down in the staff
room without budging an inch.

Taking loans had been Sastry’s habit, not paying them back was common for him, dodging the
creditors his destiny, and forgetting his debts his rule.

Sastry had no bad habits, never smoked a cigarette or a beedi, never played cards, or gambled on
anything for that matter. He did not bet on horses, and never cheated on his wife; had been an
avowed monogamist all his life. He had only a couple of children and he did not have to incur huge
expenses on their education either.

Yet he could not live within his means. Nobody knew except Obilesu why Sastry was borrowing
money and what he was doing with it.

Obilesu was aware of Sastry’s habit of borrowing a ten or twenty and forgetting it. One thing for
sure, there had been times when Sastry asked for a hundred or two, but never thousands. He knew
that Sastry would ask for new loans without settling the old ones. And he kept borrowing from
whomsoever he could. Sometimes the creditors would remind him of the loan; then only he would
have a recollection of it, and he would assure them that he would get back to them on it.
Eventually, it became harder for Sastry to raise new loans. The pressure from his creditors to settle
the old debts was increasing. The loans taken in the past five years added up close to ten
thousand rupees. Obilesu wondered if Sastry wanted a new loan to pay off the old ones.
Sastry and Obilesu were drawing the same salary. Yet Obilesu could save some money from his
income whereas Sastry fell short always. The entire income of Obilesu’s wife went into savings. In
the past twenty-five years, each time a lecturer’s position opened up, Obilesu said that Sastry’s wife
should apply for the job.

In response, Sastry would go into a fit of rambling, “Work is slavery. I come from a highly esteemed
ancestry. I had no choice but degrade myself with this low life. Do I have to put my wife also through
this humiliation? In our families, women don’t go out to work; they don’t even step outside the front
door. For what anyways? To rule the country?”

Sastry and his wife Sarada had been classmates in the M.A. class. Sarada got first class and Sastry
finished in second class. Theirs was love marriage. It was performed like an arranged marriage
nevertheless. The horoscopes were checked, and the dowry and other gifts were paid per custom.
“Our ways matched,” Sastry said.

“Your mentalities should match,” Obilesu said. There was no change in Sastry’s family set up.
Sarada turned into a woman consigned to the kitchen and the delivery room odors as if God had
created her only for that purpose.

One day, Sastry invited Obilesu and his wife to dinner to his place. Sastry wanted to show off his
epicure. Obilesu felt sad as he noticed Sarada’s worn out sari and the sumptuous food served.

“Why so many items? For whom?” Obilesu said.

“Who else? For us only,” Sastry said.

“Tomato chutney and yogurt are enough to make me happy. Why so many items?”

“There is plenty to eat but I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Digestion problem.”

“How come?”

“In my childhood days, we didn’t have enough to eat. And so gotten used to not eating much.”

“And now?”

“Now I have plenty but just can’t eat.”

“That’s hard, isn’t it?”

“We don’t need to eat this much to live.”

“I need them.”

“Everyday?”

“Yes, each and every day.”

“So many items, just for one person?”

“Aha.”

“Isn’t that too much?”

“Just about enough.”

True it is a blessing to be able to eat so much. Obileseu understood the reasons underlying
Sarada’s filthy sari and Sastry’s borrowing spree.

Sastry wanted to show off his love of food. His wife took the day off from her sewing class, stayed
home, and spent the entire day in the kitchen making all these items—several varieties of sweet
and spicy dishes.

“Is that all?” Sastry belched loudly and asked his wife.

Obilesu was not surprised but Sarada was baffled. “I thought it would be nice to cut down for one
day,” she said.

Sastry gave Obilesu and his wife new clothes per tradition and sent them home.

After this experience, Obilesu could not decide whether we live to eat or eat to live. On his way to
the bank, he recalled the comments his fellow lecturers had made about Sastry. They would say,
“Sastry is a good eater; we can go to his house any day and have a feast.”

Next day, Obilesu was on his way to his class. Sastry stopped him and asked, “Where’s the money?”
Obilesu gave him one hundred rupee bill. Sastry did not take it.

“Ten thousand.”

“What for?”

:”To settle an old debt.”

“What about this debt?”

“I’ll take care of this too.”

“When?”

“Eventually.”

Sastry came to realize that he could not raise new loans any more. His creditors started squeezing
him for the outstanding debts. Obilesu was the only one not to do so. For that reason, Sastry
approached him again.

“Money,” Sastry said.

“That’s a big sum,” Obilesu said.

“Yes.”

“How do you think you’d pay off?”

“From my salary, on installments.”

“You know you don’t make enough.”

“I’ll manage.”

Obilesu was surprised and elated. “I’ll give you ten thousand rupees, if you pawn something.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“Pawn?”

“Yes.”

“I can give you an IOU.”

“I don’t want an IOU.”

“What do I have to pawn?”

“Think of something.”

Sastry had nothing worth pawning either on his person or at home. Whatever little he had, had
been burned away in the kitchen.

“What do I have worth pawning?”

“Whatever you have.”

“I’m telling you, I have nothing to pawn. Just say you won’t give me the money.”

“I will give you money.”

“What do you suggest I can pawn?”

“Your sacred thread.”

“The sacred thread?” Sastry was stunned, fingering the thread on his shoulder. He glared into his
friend’s face. He was excited that he did have something to pawn.

“Really? My sacred thread?”

“Yes.”

“What value this thread has?”

“Maybe nothing.”

“What’ll you do with it?”

“”Keep it as collateral.”

“What if I renege?”

“I’ll have your jandhyam.

“That’s a just thread, worth ten paise.”

“Maybe.”

“What do you think you can do with it? You’re not going to realize even the interest on the loan with
it.”

“Maybe.”

Sastry gaped at his friend, Is he out of his mind? The thread was sanctified with mantra. It was a
symbol of his status as twice-born, and that he had been through the ritual, upanayanam; it was a
reminder of his duty to protect the vedic traditon and secured by gayantri mantra; it was supposed
to bring about his nirvana, and help destroy his enemies. The more he thought about it, the worse
the turmoil he found himself in.

Obilesu sat there without uttering a word.

“What’s this for?” Sastry asked again.

“I need collateral.”

“What for?”

“I want something that you have and I don’t have, and the thing that is standing in the way of our
friendship.”

“You don’t need this.”

“This sacred thread—either we both have it or both don’t have it. It is preventing us from being
brothers, and creating a disparity between the two of us. We’re not on par because of this thread.
It’s separating us.”

“If I remove it and give it to you, will you wear it?”

“No, I won’t wear it.”

“So, what do you do with it?”

“I’ll keep it with me”

“And what do get out of it?”

“Neither of us will be wearing the sacred thread. That makes us equal; we can be brothers. That
makes us even and helps us to unite. No more conflicts between us, discrepancies, no social order,
or the inequalities.”

Sastry was quiet for a few seconds. Obilesu did not speak either. Suddenly Sastry said, “I can’t
pawn my sacred thread.”

“That’s up to you.”

“I can’t remove it.”

“That’s up to you.”

“Removing it throws away my status as a Brahmin into the Ganges.”

“No, that’s a sin.”

“No, that’s redemption.”

“No, it’s a fall out.”

“No.”

“No.”

“That’s up to you,” Obilesu said.

They both sat silently for a while. Sastry broke the silence, “Do you have the money with you?”

“I do.”

“Got it from where?”

“From the bank.”

“To give it to me?”

“Yes.”

“Then, give it to me.”

“Give me the collateral.”

“I can’t.”

“That’s up to you.”

Sastry looked around. It was past three and most of his colleagues had left. They had understood
that Sastry was asking Obilesu for a loan, and Obilesu was not willing to do so. Some of them left,
preempting any attempt by Sastry to approach them. And a few others left on other errands. They
all were scared of being caught in an unsavory situation. The remaining few did not notice Sastry
and Obilesu.
Sastry asked again, “This’s just a cotton thread. What’d you want to do with it?”

“Not just a thread, it’s jandhyam..”

“So, you’ll not give me the money until I pawn it?”

“Correct, I won’t give you the money.”

“You won’t return my jandhyam to me until I paid the entire amount and the interest?”

“Correct.”

Sastry started thinking, Is it proper to remove the sacred thread, which he was required to wear until
his death? He did not remove it. But he needed the money, and for that reason, he must take it out.
… it was sanctified with mantra; he must not remove. While it was on his body, it might just be a
sacred thread. If he removed it, it would be worth ten thousand rupees. The thread had that kind of
value. The thread had its own value as jandhyam. While worn, the man had gotten such a
commanding value. If he removed it, it got cash value. And he needed cash.

“What if I give you my sacred thread as collateral, and buy another thread to wear?”

“That won’t be the same as the jandhyam pawned.”

“What if I do so without your knowledge?”

“You can’t.”

“They’re only a bunch of threads. I can get new ones.”

“You can’t find a jandhyam. I’ll have your it. No matter how many threads you get, they’re not going
to be the same. You’ll not wear them.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I have faith in you.”

Sastry was happy about his friend and the trust he had in him. And, also about the cash he was
going to get. The only problem was the sacred thread; it hurt him to think that he had to pawn it.
“Do you believe that I’ll pay you back?”

“I believe so”

“Why?”

“I trust your word.”

“What if I don’t pay you back?”

“You will.”

“What if I don’t?”

“You won’t get back your sacred thread.”

“What if I don’t get it back?”

“You won’t have a jandhyam for the rest of your life.”

“So?”

“You won’t have the Brahmin status?”

“So?”

“Then you’re like me, just another person.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll be my brother.”

“Now?”

“A Brahmin.”

“Meaning?”

“A friend.”

“Meaning?”

“Not a brother.”

“Meaning?”
“We’re unequal.”
“Meaning?”

“There’s no unity, no brotherhood.”

Sastry was quiet. Obilesu did not move. He did not pull out the money from his pocket, did not give
the money to Sastry.

You give me the money, and I’ll give you my sacred thread.”

“You put it down first, and then I’ll give you the money.”

“Wait here. I’ll get it,” Sastry said and stood up.

Obilesu also got up. Both of them proceeded towards the lavatory.

“Will you tell others that I pawned my sacred thread?”

“I won’t.”

“Promise?”

“Nobody will know except you and me.”

“Where’s the guarantee?”

“The sacred thread itself.”

There was no water in the lavatory, the stench was unbearable. Obilesu covered his nose but not
Sastry. Sastry removed his shirt. The stink. The toilet was not flushed for want of water. But people
didn’t care, they all were using it one after another; the choking stench did not stop them. … Sastry
removed his shirt and handed it to Obilesu. … the smell … no breeze … the smell would not go away
… no water … The people who came in would not go without stirring up more stench. … The bad
smell pervaded like a swarm of honeybees. They stung the nostrils, skewed their faces.
Sastry and Obilesu came into the lavatory for a reason; it had nothing to do with the lavatory. The
purpose for which they came there was not accomplished. … It was getting delayed because
Sastry’s hand was shaking. Jandhyam. … his hand shook. The odor was getting worse, spreading
all over. Nine threads. Nine was an absolute number, three times three, three-fold universe, three
million gods, three supreme deities—all pointing to the significance of the nine threads in the
sacred thread. Sastry’s hand shook.

Obilesu did not rush him but the odors were. His trust permitted Sastry to dilly-dally. People always
take off the sacred thread and put it back, but not like this, and not here … not for this reason.
History in the making. … Sastry’s hand was shaking. A person, who had not had the ritual of
upanayanam, and worn no sacred thread, would not be eligible to perform the vedic rituals. Should
he reject the vedic tradition or honor it? Sastry was shaking all over, from head to foot.
It is demeaning to pawn the sacred thread, and buy a piece of thread to wear from a store, a thread
that will be used for all kinds of things. He would not break his promise. But then, the times
changed. The practice of spinning the thread for making the sacred thread using takilil had gone.
dharma had strayed away. Everything had been changing rapidly. Only man had not changed. The
hunger he would have had not changed but on the rise.

Sastry held the sacred thread in his hand. He shut his eyes, with tears rolling down his face. His
hand shook; he moved it to the other hand. Still shaking, he leaned against the wall. … dirty smell.
Revolting walls. Sastry’s bare back propped up against the wall of the lavatory.

Tears fell on his bare stomach; did not roll down all the way but made the stomach wet. The sacred
thread rolled in his tears as he slowly removed it. The thread that had been accustomed to his
sweat until now embraced the tears. It slid all over his stomach, rolled on it, and bid a final farewell
from its native place. The sacred thread, which was a flower in his crown, an incense stick in the
puja room, a flag flying high on his stomach, traded places.

The sacred thread that had come in handy to scratch his back was being torn from his back and the
itch. The jandhyam that was a symbol of his Brahminical tradition now turned him in to an ordinary
human. The thing shifted its position from his shoulder to his palm.

A piece of thread that had not cost him even ten paise had the power to earn ten thousand rupees.
Sastry was surprised. He crammed it into his fist, picked up his shirt, and put it on.

“Here,” he said. No shivering, no tears. As he said it, there was a little quiver in his tone, and the
hand seemed to have shaken slightly.

“Keep it.”

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you.”

They both returned to the staff room. It was nearly empty. A couple of staff members sat there in
the room with their legs stretched on to the tables in front of them.

“Take it,” Sastry said.

“I will.”

“Give me the cash.”

“I will.”

Obilesu did not give him the money nor did he take the sacred thread.

“Take it,” Sastry said again.

“I don’t want it”

“Why?”

“I’ll not touch it.”

“Why?”

“It’s untouchable for me. I will not touch it.”

Sastry was shocked.

Obilesu said, “Nobody touches you or your sacred thread. That’s untouchable. I’ll not touch it.”
“But we two hang around, have always been together, aren’t we?”

“That’s true. But not with the sacred thread.”

Sastry was hurt. “Did I ever say that you’re an untouchable?” he said.

“You didn’t say that.”

“Then?”

“I’m saying it.”

“Saying what?”

“That it should not be touched.”

“Who should not touch it—you or me?”

“Me.”

“”Why?”

“That’s untouchable.”

“I never said you’re an untouchable.”

“No, you did not. I came to your home.”

“Yes.”

“I ate in your home.”

“I invited you to my home.”

“Yes.”

“Then, why can’t you touch this?”

“For your sake.”

“For my sake? You mean to save my sanctity and the sanctity of this sacred thread?”

“Maybe.”

“So, you’re keeping me at a distance in the name of sanctity.”

“That’s not it.”

“Then, why don’t you take it?”

“That’s dirty.”

“Dirty how?”

“Because of your body.”
“The sacred thread did not become dirty because of my body; it was sanctified. An ordinary thread
turns into a jandhyam when I wear it. The thread is sanctified. That’s the reason you valued it so
high.”

“Your jandhyam may be sacred and valuable but to me it is a dirty piece.”

“In what way?”

“Think about it. You change your shirt and underwear regularly. But you never change that sacred
thread, except on rare occasions.”

“”So what?”

“Look at that; smelling of sweat and soil.”

“What do you mean?”

“Probably it was like jasmine flower when you first put it on but now it looks like a worn out rag.”

Sastry did not reply.

Obilesu said again, “Smell it, the smell of urine.”

“That’s because I removed it there.”

“It’s the same wherever you remove it.”

Obilesu told him to put it in an envelope and seal it. Sastry did so.

“Sign it.” Sastry did so. It felt like an encore for his brahmin existence. He put the envelope on the
table in front of him. The tears in his eyes dried up and his vision was foggy.

The envelope with the money was sitting on the envelope with his sacred thread. If the envelopes
were removed, money on top and the sacred thread below. Sacred thread was the thing pawned off
and the stack of cash was the cash for the thread.

“Take it,” said Obilesu. His voice was calm, tender, and amiable.

Sastry picked up the envelope containing the cash.

“Check it” Obilesu said.

“Not necessary,” Sastry put the envelope in his pocket.

Obilesu pushed the other envelope toward Sastry and said, “Take it.”

“I won’t.”

Obilesu said, speaking clearly, “Why not?”

“I don’t want it.”

“You keep it with you.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s yours.”

“But I put it down as collateral.”

“True.”

“Shouldn’t you be keeping the item as security?”

“What difference does it make whether I keep it or you keep it?”

“Are you asking me to keep the sacred thread with me?”

“Yes.”

“Can I wear it?”

“No, you must not wear it.”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s a pawned item.”

“But I have it with me.”

“Yes, you have it.”

“What if I wear it?”

“You won’t.”

“For how long?”

“Until the debt has been paid off.”

“What if I never paid it”

“You’ll never wear it.”

They left the staff room and walked towards the crossroads. As they approached the junction where
they were going to go their separate ways.

The tower clock as his witness, Obilesu said, “Sastry, I will not be distressed even if you don’t pay
back the loan.” He stopped for a second, and said, speaking clearly, “I’ll be happy still.”

[End]

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, July 2006.

(The Telugu original taakatu was published in an anthology entitled Asprusyaganga. 1999.)