Tag Archives: Telugu stories in English

Chataka Birds part 5

5

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

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

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

(Continued)

(June 10, 2022)

References

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

Lakshmi Puja Day by Bhandaru Acchamamba

(Translator’s note: The Telugu original, dhanatrayodasi, by Bhandaru Acchamamba(1874-1905) has been published, originally, in Hindusundari monthly, November 1902. Reprinted on www.bhumika.org in 2006.

My translation has been published in 2009 on this site, and included in the anthology, Penscape, An Anthology of Telugu Short Stories. The art work on the cover has been created by highly acclaimed artist, Seela Veerraju garu. It reflects the theme of this story. – Nidadavolu Malathi, translator.
The day of the festivity occurs two days before Diwali day, and celebrated by Hindus seeking health, wealth and prosperity. Also, referred to as Lakshmi Puja Day.

)

000

Lakshmi Puja Day

Around 7:00 in the evening on the day of Dhanathrayodasi[1]Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities, the entire city of Bombay was celebrating the festival exuberantly. There were not as many lamps as on the deepavali day, but each house was glowing with the little lamps in clay dishes, enough to display the contour and the beauty of the house. Firecrakers were making huge sounds from every corner. People adorned Goddess Lakshmi with gold and diamond jewelry, and performed the Lakshmi puja per custom.

In one home, however, there was no sign of the festival. It could be called not a home but a hut. That hut was located between mansions of two rich business persons. It was like the Goddess Jyeshta, [2]Goddess of poverty, came to watch the celebration of her younger sister, Lakshmi[3]The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth. People in the neighborhood were happy, on one hand, to see the cleanliness and tidiness of the hut; on the other hand, they were upset because the hut was ruining the beauty of the wealthy neighborhood. My dear sisters!(neighbors), you are upset, probably, because I am narrating the story of a poor family instead of the rich on this festive occasion in this great city. Sisters! If you stop being annoyed and listen to me carefully, you would know that the story of this hut is extraordinary.

I have stated earlier that there were two great mansions on either side of the hut. Those mansions lit several lamps all around their homes, but the hut in the middle had only one lamp shining brightly at the center of it. Vijayalakshmi, the lady of the hut, was sowing a blouse, which she had agreed to make for another woman, for a little cash. A four-year-old girl and a cute three-year-old boy sat next to her. They were showing her their toys and asking questions. They made her happy.

Vijayalakshmi finished cooking, and was waiting for her husband to come home. Her husband, Venkataratnam, was working as a clerk for a rich business owner, Setty. She knew it was Dhana trayodasi day, and her husband would be home only after the puja at his boss’s house had concluded. Therefore, she fed the children and ended the state of madi[4]A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical … Continue reading. She sat down to work on the blouse again. Ah! Her face was glowing with the signs of awaiting her husband‘s arrival. Only those, who had seen her with their own eyes, could appreciate it but not everybody. Her physical eyes were focused on the blouse, but her mind’s eye was on her husband’s coming home.

Her cute son threw his arms around her neck tightly, calling for her attention. Up until then, she was answering his questions with a brief “ha” or “um”, without paying attention, as she continued to work on the blouse. The sweet little boy held on to her neck so tightly that she had to put aside her sowing and take him into her arms. She said softly, “Nayanaa! [5]Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child What do you want? You have been playing with your sister. Go, play for a little longer. I have to finish this sowing.”

The cute little boy followed her suggestion and went away. Outside, he saw the bright lights from the fireworks in front of their neighbor’s house; he clapped and laughed gleefully. He said to his mother, in his baby-like words, “Look, Amma, it is so beautiful. May I go there and watch the fireworks?”

It was not too far away from their home. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi called her daughter, Rukmini, and said to her, “My little girl! you take Ramu to watch the festivities at our neighbor’s home. Be careful, don’t go too close to the fireworks, and don’t fight with anyone there.”

The two children went to their neighbor’s home. As the mother watched them leave, her eyes were filled with tears, and her grief was hard to handle. Poor woman! Probably she remembered the first day of the festivities. It was the day of fireworks. Children had wanted to light fireworks; she managed to calm them down somehow. After that, the children never asked for them again. Now they asked for her permission to watch it at their neighbor’s home. She could not help but think of their remarkable behavior; she felt sorry again that she did not have the money to fulfill the wishes of such well-behaved children. The thought was even more painful to her. She was distressed that they did not have a good home to live in, good clothes to wear, and no sumptuous meals even on a special holiday. She was spending her days happily in the company of her worthy husband, despite several hardships they had been facing each day. However, when she thought of the pain of her children , her grief was enormous. She grieved for her children’s suffering especially because she had experienced unlimited wealth in the past.

Both Vijayalakshmi and Venkataratnam had been wealthy in their childhood. Venkataratnam was the only son of Mallayya, a prominent man in Kolakaluru village. Therefore, his wedding was celebrated on a grand scale. He was ten-years- old at the time. A sum of fifteen thousand rupees was spent on the ceremony. Oh, God! The couple, on whose wedding, fifteen thousand rupees had been spent, were not even in a position to lay their eyes on such a big amount of money now. Maybe, it is no surprise for those, whose agraharams[6]An endowment of a small township had been ruined. Anyway, Mallayya’s agraharam had been pawned partly even before Venkataratnam’s wedding took place. Yet, they continued to take out more and more loans and celebrate more and more events. Under those circumstances, Mallayya thought the time for his only son’s wedding was slipping away fast.

Mallayya took out one more loan and performed the ceremony. Venkataratnam and the family suffered unbearable, adverse circumstances. There was no food in the house. The couple were devastated as they watched the children suffer because of their poverty. During Mallayya’s time, creditors had not bothered them. But, immediately after his death, All the creditors came together and collected their dues from what was left of Venkataratnam’s assets, at the rate of one half of one rupee. Poor Venkataratnam, he had to experience the travails resulting from either the stupidity or cleverness of his ancestors. Venkataratnam was an honorable man. Although he had lived the rich life as the son of an agraharam owner, he had not acquired their bad habits, such as egotism, conceit, and indolence. The pecuniary circumstances were painful, yet he was managing because his wife was also bound by the same Dharma as he. By the time his father died, he had passed the Entrance exam. Although he was young enough to continue his studies and improve his qualifications, he had no money to do so. The time was not in his favor. He had to find a job. He joined as a clerk under Setty, a business owner, for ten rupees per month. They were managing barely with those ten rupees. It is only natural for them to worry about the children under the circumstances.

I have stated earlier that Vijayalakshmi was worried about her children’s plight. The recalled the rich life they had enjoyed previously; the way it had been destroyed, and the hardships the children had been through. She was struggling to keep her uncontrollable sorrow in check.

Just then, she heard Ramu’s cries. She stood up quickly and went to her neighbor’s house. She reached their home and saw that her neighbor was beating Ramu. She asked what had happened. The woman said that Ramu had taken a firecracker with no wick, broken it into two, and put them next to the lamp. The lamp was put out as a result. In reality, the neighbor’s child beat Ramu and Ramu started to cry. The boy was afraid that his mother might beat him. So, he turned around and said Ramu hit him first. The boy’s mother believed her son and hit Ramu as if she was beating not a little boy but an animal. Even those mothers, who usually beat their own children, would not take it, if somebody beats them like that. Imagine how difficult it was for Vijayalakshmi, who never beat her children, to see somebody beat her child. She was angry beyond words, yet, controlled herself, and brought Rukmini and Ramu home. She consoled the two children, but could not control her own grief. She was heartbroken; she told herself that her children were suffering only because of their poverty. She ran her fingers over Ramu’s bruises tenderly, and shed tears incessantly. There was nobody to comfort her. If Venkataratnam was there, he would have comforted her. Look! Even now, she was thinking of him kindly only.

Vijayalakshmi heard her husband’s footsteps, hid her sorrow, and put on a happy face. Oh! Vijayalakshmi! Who can count your fine qualities? You are so considerate of your husband’s feelings; you hide your sorrow, wipe your tears, and appear before him with a happy face, and the baby in your arms. If all women cherish similar values, imagine how our country could prosper?

Venkataratnam came home. He did not look happy and pleasant as he used to; he was sad and down. He was sweating all over. Usually, he would come home, speak to his wife with a smile, kiss the baby and then he go into the next room to change. But today, he went in, without speaking to his wife or kissing the baby.

Vijayalakshmi thought he, probably, had overworked and was tired. She started dabbing the sweat off of his face. The baby in her arms was sleepy. She went in, put the baby to bed, and returned to give him fresh clothes to change into.

Venkataratnam changed his clothes, handed the old clothes to his wife and sat down, leaning on the rolled bed on the floor. Vijayalakshmi watched his behavior, and wondered if he had a headache. He went close to him, put her palm on his forehead, and asked, “Why are you quiet today? Do you have a headache? Is it hurting bad?”

Venkataratnam said he had no headache.

She was not convinced. She asked again, “If you do not have a headache, why are you so quiet?”

Venkataratnam looked at her, and felt sad. He asked her, “Are you thinking of our misfortunes, and worrying?”

As she heard his words, Vijayalakshmi recalled the grief she had suffered a few minutes back, thought her husband might be worried in the same manner, and stifled her own grief. She put on a happy face, and said, “Is that all? Why would I worry for such a small matter? I am not worried even in the least bit.”

“Ha, you are amazing! When I think of the wealth we have had before and the miseries we are subjected to now, I feel very sad. We had a great life in the past. Now we are living in dire poverty, and that is hard. Today, all the others have put their valuable jewelry together and worshiped it. You had worn several valuable gold and diamond ornaments. But today, you do not have even one piece of jewelry on you. Are you not troubled about it, at least a little?”

Vijayalakshmi, said, “I am not troubled, not even a little bit. You are worried that we do not have riches, right? I would consider our situation the best, when I watch the egotism and the lack of judgment in some of the rich people. Had we been wealthy, we would not have had this superb pleasure, which we are enjoying by following the righteous path. As for me, I would not consider any other kind of riches other than your affection.”

Venkataratnam heard her words and cringed. The expression on his face showed the scare in his heart. He, who had been virtuous so far, showed signs of fear in his face. He was surprised; he was not sure how to respond to his wife. Finally, he picked up the courage and said, “Dear wife! What would you do with wilted affection?”

Vijayalakshmi did not notice the change of expression on his face but was distressed by his words. She said, “You are causing me only pain by such talk.”
Venkataratnam: If so, I will not speak at all. Do you not worry about our children’s sad plight a little, at least? While the others’ children wore fine clothes, ate sumptuous meals and set off fireworks merrily, our children stood there with miserable looks on their faces. Does that not bother you?

Vijayalakshmi: Why would I feel sad for that? I do not have even a little bit of sadness in me. Let it be. Why are you saying unnecessary things today? You are creating problems which are not there to start with, and then, worrying about them, why? Did our children ask for anything ever, big or small?

Venkataratnam: That is the reason I am even more depressed.

As he spoke, he chocked with sadness, “If I tell you something … never mind.“ He bit his tongue. His face looked as if he was going to say something horrible but he held back. Poor woman, Vijayalakshmi noticed his behavior; she was lost for words. After a while, she came to and asked, “You were going to say what?”

Venkataratnam collected himself, and said, “Nothing. Let it be. You spoke the truth. Why should we dwell on unimportant things and worry?” Nevertheless, while he was saying those words, the expression on his face indicated that he was hiding a secret. But Vijayalakshmi, being naive, could not understand his secrecy. She believed his words.

He said, “I am hungry. I worked hard today, and it is frustrating. Let us eat quickly and go to bed.”

Vijayalakshmi went into the kitchen, and changed into madi sari. She served him food. She ate after he was finished, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. By then, Venkataratnam was asleep. It was getting late. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi also decided not to continue to sew, and went to bed straight.

Since Vijayalakshmi was guileless, she fell asleep as soon as she lay down. But, Venkataratnam, being worried, could not sleep but pretended to have fallen asleep. The incident that had happened earlier at work kept him from sleeping comfortably.


Earlier that evening, Setty had performed Lakshmi puja, and Venkataratnam stayed there longer than usual to help them. At that time, the senior clerk, Krishnamurthy, pulled him to a side and said secretly, “Venkataratnam, I am asking your help since you are smart. You promise me that you will tell not anybody about what I am going to tell you.”

Venkataratnam had known the old clerk to be a good and trustworthy person, and so, promised him to keep his secret.

Then, Krishnamurthy said, “Venkataratnam! Did you see all this valuable jewelry they had taken out from the chest for the purpose of Lakshmi puja? This jewelry is nothing to them. In their store, they have jewelry that is thousand times more valuable. You do not know about this, do you?”

Venkataratnam could not follow where the clerk was leading, He said, “Yes, I know.”

Senior clerk: Since you know, you should also know that the entire money is in my custody.

Venkataratnam: Yes. Setty garu trusts you, immensely. Therefore, he gave you the keys to the chest.

Senior clerk: Because they have that kind of faith in me, I am engaged in an activity that will not fail them, I am sure.

The Senior clerk’s words gave rise to a little suspicion in Venkataratnam’s mind. Yet he kept quiet, waiting to hear what else he was going to say.

Senior clerk: Since they have so much money, it is not wrong if we take a little from it. And it is not going to be a big loss for him, either. For us, it rids the Lady Poverty of our lives. I am a senior clerk and my salary is only fifty rupees. And for you, it is only ten rupees. You know, it is impossible for us to run our families on such small income. You need not worry that the secret might come out. I will take care of it. This suggestion of mine must be carried out before the year-end accounting is completed. There are only two more days left for us to act. What do you say?”

As the senior clerk continued to talk, Venkataratnam became irate, and his eyes turned red. He wanted to stop him, but swallowed his irritation and kept quiet since that person was his senior and more powerful. After the senior clerk finished his speech, Venkataratnam said, “Sir! Krishnamurthy garu! If you are suggesting this to me for fun, that is all right. If it is real, your suggestion is absolutely not acceptable to me. Since I have given you my word, I will not reveal this to anybody else, though.”

From Krishnamurthy’s demeanor, it was obvious that his enthusiasm had been curtailed by the powerful argument put forth by Venkataratnam. Yet, the senior clerk was determined, and so, continued to persuade Venkataratnam.

Venkataratnam was aware of the enormous wealth of Setty, but remained steady in his stance.

The senior clerk recounted the pecuniary circumstances of Venkataratnam and the hardships his wife and children were suffering from.

Tears started flowing from Venkataratnam’s eyes as he heard his own heartbreaking plight, aa narrated by the senior clerk, who was well seasoned in business dealings. He had been around for a very long time. The senior clerk saw Venkataratnam’s tears, and said, “Venkataratnam, what is it? Am I not correct in describing the conditions of your family?”

Venkataratnam: (Wiping his tears) Yes. It has been like that for sometime.

The senior clerk: If so, why would you not take my advice?

Venkataratnam: Chi. Krishnamurthy garu! Do not speak to me like that anymore. Your words cannot change my heart.

The senior clerk was well aware of human nature. He knew that if a person’s heart turned to evil, even a little, it would be very hard to bring it back to goodness. He thought it would help if he gave him some time to think. He said, “All right. Let it be, for now. I will not talk about it anymore. You think about it all night, com to my home tomorrow, and let me know your decision. Today, it is Deepavali festival, and probably, you have nothing at home to celebrate. Therefore, take this one-hundred rupee bill. Do not say you do not want it.” So saying, the senior clerk put the bill in Venkataratnam’s pocket.

On his way home from the store, numerous thoughts rose in the mind of Venkataratnam, a family man committed to his Dharma. Should he or should he not do as the old man had asked him to do? The question was troubling. His conscience was saying that such action would ruin his good family name. At the same time, the preaching of shrewd Krishnamurthy was coming back and encouraging him to accept the clerk’s proposition. Venkataratnam reached home with that mindset. You, the intelligent readers, probably had guessed by now that it was what Venkataratnam wanted to tell his wife yet was hesitant to do so.


Venkataratnam closed his eyes and pretended to be sleeping but could not. As stated earlier, several thoughts beset him. He could not decide what he was going to do though. He noticed that his wife had fallen asleep; he got up from the bed, and was pacing back and forth. He suddenly remembered the one-hundred rupee bill, the senior clerk had given him, took it out from his pocket, went closer to the lamp, and examined it. He had come to a decision. He told himself, “Yes, I will take his advice. He said it was only to help me. Is it not so?” He turned around and looked at his wife. Then the words she had spoken a few minutes back came to his mind. He forgot at once the decision he had made earlier and told himself, “Chi. I would never do such a thing.” He looked at the children, who were sleeping next to his wife, and the sight drove away the good thought he had entertained a moment ago. He thought, “I cannot see the miseries of these little children. Besides, nobody else will know what I am going to do.”

Just then, Vijayalakshmi woke for some inexplicable reason, and sat up.

Venkataratnam was dumbfounded, and leaned back on the wall. From his hand the bill fell on the floor.

Vijayalakshmi was not aware what had happened in the past few minutes. Surprised and worried, she approached her husband and asked, “What is this? Why are up still, at this hour? What are you doing at this time of the night? You seem to be worried since evening. Can you not tell me what is bothering you?” Then she saw the bill on the floor. It broke her heart. She said, almost crying, “Sir! What is this? From where did you get it? Can you not tell me, your wife, where from you have gotten this? Today, I have seen several bad omens. I pray, please, explain this to me.”

Venkataratnam was clever, and was influenced by the senior clerk’s words. He e tried to persuade his wife but to no avail.

Vijayalakshmi shuddered at the thought, and was anguished by his words. She was angry beyond control; her eyes turned red, and started shedding tears. Even in her anger, she did not think she should keep quiet because he was her husband. She was convinced that, if she ignored it now, he would take to evil ways, and that would ruin him. It is her duty to stop that from happening. Thus, she decided not to keep quiet. She said harshly, “I suspect you did not earn this money by fair means. What is your reason for doing so? Have I ever bothered you for jewelry or fine clothes? Have the children ever pestered us for something or other? If that is the reason for harboring such evil thought, I swear on your feet[7]a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’ that I will never ask for anything, and make sure that children will not ask for anything. Please, be kind to us and stay away from evil path. You may say that others would not know of your action. Nevertheless, can you deceive the omniscient Lord and pursue your plan? If you do so, do you think your poor soul will be at peace as before? Can we have the same happiness with this stolen money as we do with the hard-earned ten rupees? Does it not bother you each time you touch it? Does it not remind you that you’ve gotten it through deception? Oh God! I cannot stop your plan. I cannot enjoy the happiness I have been enjoying so far from the present poverty.” She could not control her sorrow anymore. She wept pitiably.

Venkataratnam looked at her, pulled her close to his bosom, and said, “Oh, you are the best sati(wife). Your good words have dispelled the darkness of ignorance from my mind. I will never do a bad deed again. We will stay poor and enjoy the pleasure the righteous path bestowed on us. Oh! Only because I have a wife of impeccable virtues like you, I am redeemed from a huge sin. You are the very personification of the best in my life! The name Vijayalakshmi suits you very well. Today, I have earned the victory in the true sense of the word. A little while ago, I was worried that I did not have Goddess Lakshmi to worship, while the entire world was worshiping her. I have you, the very personification of Lakshmi right in front of me. Why should I worry about a Lakshmi made of metal? Today, I will worship only this Lakshmi.” So saying, Venkataratnam worshiped her and hugged her, who had no gold jewelry on her person but was decorated with impeccable virtues.

In that moment, Vijayalakshmi was elated and, unwittingly, leaned on his shoulder. She was worried beyond words that she had blamed her husband for no good reason. After a while, she said calmly, “You would not commit such act ever again. Is that right?”

Venkataratnam embraced her again and told her he would never do so again.

She snuggled by his fee; felt that her husband had been redeemed from a huge mistake and returned to her. Venkataratnam picked her up. They both spent the rest of the night in a hearty sleep with a clear conscience.The second day, it was Naraka Chaturdasi day[8]The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali. So, they woke up at the crack of dawn. Vijayalakshmi made Rukmini offer harati[9]A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’. to her father and brother. They all washed their hair and celebrated.

Venkataratnam received a piece of jaggary, his wife had given him, wore clean clothes, and went to Krishnamurthy, put the hundred rupee bill in front of him, and said, “I will not accept your proposition,” and turned around to leave.

Krishnamurthy stopped him, asked him to sit, and said, “You wait here until I come back,” and went into the house.

Venkataratnam sat there thinking about Krishnamurthy’s behavior; He was confused. On the previous day, Krishnamurthy had been disappointed when Venkataratnam refused to go along with his plan. Today, the same Krishnamurthy was happy about it. Venkataratnam kept thinking about the events while waiting for the senior clerk. Krishnamurthy returned along with Setty. Venkataratnam stood up respectfully.

Setty approached Venkataratnam, patted on his shoulder, and said, “Venkataratnam! You did the right thing!” Then added, “You are smart , honest and, you work hard. I wanted to test you to see if you are equally righteous. I asked Krishnamurthy to test you. You passed the test, and also your unbearable poverty. Yesterday, your heart wavered a little, I think. That was the fault of poverty, not yours. A man, who tried to commit an evil act but moved away from it, is a much greater person than the man who had never entertained an evil thought. It is possible to commit a sin by the first person but the second person will never know if he would commit an evil act. You have earned the hundred rupees you had received yesterday by sticking to your principles. I will also promote you as an assistant to Krishnamurthy with a salary of 20 rupees per month.”

Venkataratnam heard Setty’s words, and could not remain silent anymore. He did not like the praise that was being poured on him. He told them the conversation he had with his wife the night before.

Setty heard his story and was very happy. He sent for Vijayalakshmi. Setty told her, “Amma! You are Vijayalakshmi in the true sense of the term. You are like a daughter to me by virtue of your principles.”

Thereafter, Setty continued to treat Vijayalakshmi as his daughter. Venkataratnam loved his wife and treated her like a goddess. The couple enjoyed the riches they had received as a result of their courage and strength of dharma for a very long time.
000

Related articles:
Bhandaru Acchamamba. The Outstanding Life and Work of Bhandaru Acchamamba.

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s Stories. A Review

Bhandaru Acchamamba. First Telugu Story Writer

000
(Revised. June 6, 2022.)

References

References
1 Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities
2 Goddess of poverty
3 The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth
4 A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical contact with others
5 Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child
6 An endowment of a small township
7 a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’
8 The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali
9 A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’.

Evolving Values by J.P. Sarma

(The unpublished Telugu original, Ammamma Uttaram, translated by Dr. Suguna Kannan.)

Grandmother’s Letter:

Dear Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi(1) Kamakshi,

This is your grandmother Narasamma writing to you…

We do speak every day over the phone, but there are some things one cannot share over the phone so, this letter. Our neighbor’s son has promised to post it to you. Tomorrow, I will call the boy when you ring me up and you can share your postal address so he can write it down.

Anyway, my reason for writing to you is this …. in my youth, the auspicious month of Sravan2 used to fly by on golden wings. On Tuesdays and Fridays, our home would overflow with female friends, and the festivities would keep us all busy and engrossed. To add to the hubbub, would be the brouhaha caused by the occasional tiny showers common during this season. It would make the ladies worry about their silk saree getting wet. Unlike the present times, there was no craze among the ladies to deck themselves in costly grand sarees and expensive gold jewelry. Everyone dressed according to their capacity. Whether affluent or impoverished, their concerns were only about…. performing the pooja with reverence, visiting each other’s homes to receive the blessings and prasad (offerings to God) … inquiring about each other, and exchanging greetings and news… our lives were limited to these, and time passed by with no problem! By night, the whole house, covered with yellow turmeric, would appear golden. The sight would be gratifying to the heart. Maybe N.T Ramarao3 chose yellow as his party color hoping it would make Andhra Pradesh golden! Now neither the turmeric nor my husband is there in my life… What is the use of thinking about them?

By evening, about three kgs of the prasad(soaked chickpeas) would accumulate. I would grind it with salt, chilies, and some onions to make vadas (savory fried snacks native to South India) since your grandfather was very fond of those. I used to make them for four or five days after that and he would polish off half a dozen vadas after his afternoon nap while reading a book. All that revelry and merriment has vanished from this house. I see a few ladies visiting each other for the pooja but their faces are more likely to be colored white rather than yellow. Your grandfather’s departure to heaven has prevented them from coming to this house.

I was reminded of all this, my dear – I don’t know, why? Your uncle married as per his wish but what was the use? Your aunt could never see eye to eye with him on any issue! It is ten years since they left…. I don’t even know where they are! Maybe he does not even remember me! Okay! I got over that too … since your mother was in the same town…you are her only daughter…and what did she do… unnecessarily she sent you to America for further studies! You got married as per your choice…white or black what does it matter…he is not ours, No? So, where is the scope any longer for…Sravan month, poojas, and gaiety? I could not fulfill my yearning with your mother…. nor with you!

My mother used to perform the pooja with me and when I used to pay obeisance before her, she would bless me, “May the years of my lifespan be added to yours, and may you live happily for 100 years”. Finally, I seem to have taken the years from my parents’, your grandfather’s, and even your mother’s lifespan. I am still alive but there is no life in me.

By writing my thoughts, I feel unburdened, the tears that had long frozen in my eyes have melted. They flow down my cheeks providing me some relief. I know that memories are sorrowful but I have no one to share them with except you.

Take Care, dear!
Your Loving Grandma,
Narsamma

Granddaughter’s Response:
Dear Ammamma(4),
Your granddaughter Kamakshi offers her namaskarams(5) to you through this letter.
We are all fine here and hope you are safe and sound there. After reading your letter, I wanted to reply to you. Ammamma, your letter reminded me of all the advice given by my mother as well as you and that is what inspired me to pen this letter. For me, it is a first …. I have never written to you earlier… I did not even know how to address you in a letter so I searched on Google for a long time. Pshaw! …. great Google had not the faintest idea… as if it could even think of such a thing! So, I thought …. I would write just as I talk to you on the phone!
Ammamma…. If I had stayed in our place, I might not have learned as much about Telugu as I have learned after coming here to New Jersey! Only after coming here, did I realize the value of our language (as they say the grass is greener on the other side). My first boss was from Andhra and he told me, “In our office, three-fourths of the employees are from Andhra. If you know Telugu, you will learn the job easily.” Those days the only language I heard was Telugu so I began to improve and refine my Telugu usage, which I had avoided earlier. My love and respect for the language grew. You always insisted that ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’…now it has been proven …QED as they say in Geometry. My thoughts about our language and you have undergone a sea change!
In this place, there is an organization called Silicon Andhra Manabadi(6), which teaches Telugu to children. These children have a greater grasp of Telugu compared to me. I learn from them without any embarrassment.
Incidentally, here also pujas are performed during the month of Sravan grandly with greater reverence and ritual purity. Here it is not just a formality to be completed but done with great interest and dedication. I met a lady doctor in the local hospital, where I had gone for my first formal medical check-up. I did not realize that she was from Andhra but she spoke in Telugu after seeing my name. She invited me home to her place and I went.
You cannot believe how much I have learned from her…she came here some fifty years ago. On my first visit to her home, I was surprised to find her looking just like you in a simple handloom saree with a long plait. It was quite contrary to the Western image I had formed of her in my mind. In their house, one whole wall is covered with a big bookshelf filled with volumes ranging from Ramayana to the latest Telugu books of poets like SriSri(7). I gained a lot of knowledge about Telugu culture but she very modestly says, ‘I learned all this only after coming here. Through her, I have become acquainted with many like-minded people. I have heard you say that in your youth, Andhras went to all other Indian states for employment; so, you will not be surprised to hear that now we find a multitude of Andhras in other countries too – so much so that at times I feel that I have not left our town. I am very surprised by the change in my thought processes during the past five years that I have been here. Doctor Aunty said that I would look nice in a skirt and half saree because I have a very adolescent appearance and look. I bought a skirt- half saree set online and wear it for festivals and special occasions. For the Varalakshmi Puja, she came home and instructed me on how to perform the puja. She had meals with us and praised my cooking a lot. After tasting the Gutthu Vankaayi (stuffed brinjal) I had made, she was surprised and said, “No matter how I make it, it never tastes so good”.
So, Ammamma, don’t worry! It is not as you imagine… our language and festivals are better respected and cherished here; as they say, “Farther from Temple, nearer to God”. My African-American husband has also learned Telugu. On festival days, when I wear silk sarees, he wears the traditional dhoti and kurta and looks like Veereslingam Pantulu(8). Ammamma, you know though he is dark, his heart is white and pure.
Incidentally, that Doctor Aunty has an only daughter…born and brought up here…she is in a live-in relationship with a South African and has gone off to some foreign country …. it’s been ten years…Aunty does not know where the girl is!
This seems to be the outcome of a free society. “World is a family” does not mean this, does it?
Poor lady! Whenever she sees me, her eyes fill up with tears but I can see a sort of happiness in them. I see my mother in her.
But one thing, Ammamma every family has a feeling of sorrow and success… it is unavoidable, isn’t it?
Bye then
Your affectionate granddaughter
Kamakshi

Foot Notes:
1. Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi – In Indian vernacular, elders while writing a letter to a younger person began traditionally with a blessing of long life (Chiranjeevi) and prosperity (Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi)
2. Sravan – Sravan is the fifth month of the Hindu Lunar calendar and is considered its holiest. It is choc-a-bloc with festivals and auspicious occasions.
3. N.T Ramarao – Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao popularly known as NTR, was an Indian actor, filmmaker, and politician who served as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms.
4. Ammamma – Grandmother
5. Namaskarams- means “I bow to you.”
6. Silicon Andhra Manabadi- a global Telugu language learning platform.
7. SriSri – was an Indian poet and lyricist, famous for his works in Telugu literature and films.
8. Veeresalingam Pantulu – A famous Telugu social reformer and writer considered to be the father of the Telugu Renaissance movement.


(June 1, 2022)

NOTE: Comments box is not working. Thanks for your support. – Editor.

Chataka Birds Part 2

(Part 1) here

Part 2

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

(May 20, 2022)

References

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