Tag Archives: Telugu writers

Coral Chain by Achanta Saradadevi

It was getting dark. Far away, the sun between two hills looked like a blood red sphere; the heat was gone.

coral_chain

(Copyright artist: Rambabu Arle)

The shades of lavishly floating clouds resembled leaves, flowers and small hills, and the sun a crimson ball in their midst. The view was like a reflection of nature in a ruby red mirror.

Vasanti washed her hair and went on to the terrace. She let her wet hair down to dry and sat on the brink of the parapet wall. She was watching the gorgeous sunset. Each time the locks on her forehead were moved by the breeze, a whiff of fine aroma spread around from the sambrani smoke she had given to her hair earlier. From her snowy-white neck, a chain of big corals, which she had inherited from her mother, was hanging gently but heavily. In the glow of those corals, her creamy cheeks seemed to quiver shyly. The entire composition—the red saree, the corals around her neck, the red kumkum on her forehead, and the henna on her fingers, which were like jasmine buds—seemed to compete with the evening glow and was immersed in it.

Vasanti had never been that excited as that evening. What a soothing day … what a beautiful evening … It was mesmerizing. In the next moment, a stray thought came over … she was lost in it.

She left this place eight years back. She had spent all her childhood here. So many memories in this town, in this house, each step of the way … All those emotions she had experienced in her childhood—the grief, the hopes, the disappointments, happiness, pleasures, the anxiety and the tears—they all came back and beset her like shadows from a distant past. They all—the pogada flowers she had gathered, the swing she had ridden under the banyan tree, the games she had played in the stairwell in the moonlight—they all started coming back like a series of episodes. Each minute, a new incident kept jumping up in her mind.

***

In the wee small hours of dawn, she was riding in the bullock-cart. The jingle bells from the bull’s neck were mesmerizing; she dozed off. It was like in a dream; she could visualize each episode from the far-off past: As she was going to Kesari’s wedding on a bullock-cart, and her dotted silk skirt shivered as the breeze blew gently, Pankajam laughing; she [Vasanti] feeling hungry and sleepy, and yawning; Malathi and herself scuffling for a red rose after the cart had stopped at the gate. … so many memories …

Several changes had taken place in her life in the past eight years. Her life had attained fullness after several stops, one after another. She studied in Kalkotta and received her B.A. degree in first class. Her father was elated that she came first in the university and threw a big party. After that, her marriage was performed with the son of the district health officer. The groom’s family did not ask for dowry. Yet father spent money lavishly and performed the wedding on a grand scale. Her husband was fortunate, he landed a job in Lucknow soon after their wedding, and she moved to her in-law’s home at the same time. Within a year, they were blessed with a baby girl. Her husband was promoted to a higher position. She was not short for anything, either financially or otherwise. There was no reason to complain about. Proverbially her husband put her on a bed of flowers and worshipped her; he never opposed her in any matter. She was very fortunate to have such a blissful life. That’s what everybody thought.

Yet, trivial memories had been popping up sporadically and making her feel bogged down.

Soon after the baby was born, and a few times after that, she tried to visit her hometown but could never do so. Her husband’s transfers every six months and other domestic issues squashed her wish each time. Now, after so many years, she was able to return to her hometown.

                                            ***

 It’s got dark. The sky was studded with stars. The moonlight shone like gold and spread to the inmost corners. The moon was laughing exultantly. Vasanti went downstairs, brought a comb, untangled her hair and put it in a loose braid. She made a wreath of jasmines bloomed afresh and the roses she had picked in the morning and tucked it in her braid.

 Her mother came upstairs with the baby in her arms. She asked, “Coming down for supper?”

 “What’s the hurry? Let father come …” Vasanti said.

 Mother asked again, looking into the sky, “When is your husband coming?”

 “Don’t know. He said he would come for the festival, if he is granted leave.”

 She sat there with mother quietly for a while watching the mango sprouts in bloom.  Mother fed the baby, spread a mattress on the terrace and laid her to sleep. Vasanti also lay down next to the sleeping baby and went into a reverie. … The moonlight was touching her face gently. The moon was splashing tiny smiles like a ball of gold.

 She could not remember how may moonlit nights and dawns she had spent on that terrace in that manner—happily, sadly, teasingly, … in her childhood. She used to go and sit on the terrace whenever she was bored. From there, she could see the innumerable small hills and mounds around and a huge meadow stretched in front of her house. Past the meadow, there were tall coconut trees and two small mountains in the rear, which seemed to be coming from two directions and meeting there. Every morning, at the stroke of six, the sun in blood red color would peek from behind those mountains. Again, in the evening the moon would greet from the same spot in between the coconut trees. Everyday she felt mesmerized by those scenes in her younger days.

 The baby moved in her sleep, and nudged against the chain in Vasanti’s neck, pressing the corals against Vasanti’s body. A sad feeling weighed her heart down. … Abbha! …. How long had she been carrying these corals! Each time the chain moved, something in her heart pricked … some incomprehensible pain … some anguish.

On the meadow in front of their house, there was only one hut, where Lakshumanna, the old man lived with his old woman and his grandchild, Sita. Sita had lost her mother long time ago. Lakshumanna used to run a grocery store, and manage with the little income he had been getting from it. …

Vasanti looked for that hut as soon as she got out of the cart. There was not even a sign of the hut. The meadow was filled with several colorful new buildings raised to the sky. She could not see even the far-off mountains. She came to her senses.

Poor Lakshumanna thatha was a nice man. He was very kind to Vasanti. He called her bullemma garu, little girl, and treated her like princess. He was very nice to her. Sita and she used to play in the green pastures in front of the hut all day. Vasanti was about seven or eight-years old at the time, about the same age as Sita. Early in the morning Vasanti would get up, take a bath, have the hair braided, wore a silk frock and go to play. Sita would come out of the hut with unkempt hair and wearing a torn skirt. Both played any number of games in the grass there: start out with gujjanagullu, gudugudu kuncham, and continue with dolls’ wedding, and finish it with kaalla gajje. Sometimes she would not remember even to go home to eat. Mother would come out the door and call out for her and bring her into the house.

Vasanti played so much in the dirt that her frock would get dirty and torn. Mother would yell at her each day and tell her that she should not play with beggar girls in the dirt, and drag her into their house. Mother yelled at her numerous times yet she [Vasanti] always found a way to run out to play with Sita. Mother got tired of it and let go.

Whenever the business was slow, Lakshumanna thatha would come and sit with them and tell them stories. Vasanti also called him thatha since Sita was calling him thatha. Thatha favored her more than Sita. She used to pick up tin strips and brass pieces and give them to thatha, telling him that they were silver and gold pieces. Thatha would take those worthless pieces zealously and put them in a tin box as if they were real silver and gold. In return, he would give them, Sita and herself, peppermints, chocolate and paan. That turned into a daily game. Each day, she gave him some worthless piece, got chocolate in return and munched it, feeling that she had accomplished something big. … On one occasion, she told her mother too about this game.

“What? Are you giving away all the gold nuggets I’ve been saving in the silver box?” mother asked.

Vasanti was nervous. “Oh, no, not them … Only the pieces I found on the floor,” she said hastily, and her face turning white.

Mother did not believe her. “I told you so many times not to go to that hovel, you don’t listen,” she said, vexed.

One day, a coral vendor came to the door. Mother haggled for over an hour and picked three varieties of corals—small, medium and big size—and bought them. They were bright red-colored and beautiful. Mother took the corals and the gold nuggets she had been saving to Sankarayya, the goldsmith. She got him make coral chains. On the same day the chains were brought home, Vasanti picked the one with the biggest corals and wore in her neck. Mother was displeased.

She said, “Cchi. They are so big they don’t look good on you. Look, this chain with cute little corals, I got it made just for you. Wear this one.”

Vasanti did not listen. She fussed over it for a while and said, “I don’t want them. I like only this one.”

Mother tried to persuade the best she could. …but no use … Vasanti would not listen. She wore that wretched coral chain and went to play. It was so heavy, her neck started hurting. It went up into the air each time she jumped, yet she did not care. She got carried away by the excitement of wearing a new chain and got absorbed in the games. She even forgot about the chain in all that hullabaloo.

After it got dark, she returned home. Mother helped her take a hot water bath and served food in the silver plate. That is when she noticed the missing chain. “Oh, no, where are the corals?” she asked anxiously.

Vasanti cringed and felt her neck, her face turned white. The chain was gone. She forgot about the chain entirely while playing games. She did not know when or how it got lost.

Mother was angry and miserable. She snarled, “I told you so many times and you turned a deaf year. Here you are now, lost it in a minute, cchi.”

After that, mother and father together asked her numerous questions. That torrent of query did not slow down even the next day. God only knows how many people asked her the same questions over and again. She was tired. All that questioning made her angry, and vexed, and made her cry.

“Where all the places you had been to since morning?”

“Where did you play?”

“With whom did you play?”

“When was the last time you had checked the coral chain?”

They went on asking like that all day. She answered all their questions, some answers she knew and others she just guessed. “I played in the hallway. I played with Savitri upstairs. I was checking the chain now and then.” But, for some reason, she did not tell them that she had been playing with Sita for a long time in front of thatha’s store. She was afraid that mother would be displeased, and she might accuse Sita and thatha.

That night mother and father searched and searched the entire house again and again but could not find the coral chain. Vasanti went to bed, frightened and depressed and crying. In the morning, once again, they all searched every nook and corner. Everybody in the neighborhood heard about the loss of the corals. And they all came to express their sympathies. There was no end to the people saying soothing words and giving suggestions: Did you search all the places? What a loss, costs twenty-five rupees at least to buy again. Maybe somebody pilfered it. Do you suspect anybody? … There were so many questions and so many comments. Poor mother, she answered them all patiently and analytically. In fact, she was happy, even seemed to enjoy reiterating the answers in great detail. She felt as if she found the item.

By eight o’clock, babayi, who was living in the same neighborhood, came to our house. At once, he started out on his share of questioning. He asked mother, “When did you put the chain in her neck? And when did you see it again?” Mother gave suitable answers.

Babayi asked suddenly, “She goes to the old man’s hut to play every day. Didn’t she go yesterday?”

Mother was dumbfounded; why did not such an obvious thought occur to her? She felt bad for being so stupid. She called Vasanti, who was hiding in a corner and asked, “Did you not go to play with Sita yesterday?”

Vasanti said furtively, “I went in the morning.”

Babayi concluded at once, “Say so. Probably, you lost it while playing in front of the hut. That old man must have taken it.”

Mother supported it. “Yes, he must have taken it. In fact, he has been bothering our little girl to bring silver and gold from our house everyday.”

Vasanti was flabbergasted. “That’s a lie. Thatha never asked me to bring anything. I was giving them on my own—the pieces I found here and there in the house, and thatha took them only to please me.” Vasanti wanted to shout these words and let mother know but, amidst all that clamor, she could not open her mouth.

Babayi went and brought thatha to our house. Arbitration started. Babayi screamed all kinds of bad words and showered a volley of insults every which way. “Little one was playing in front of your hut all morning. Who could have taken it if not you?” he said.

Thatha stood there pallid for a long time, as if he did not hear the words, did not understand them. He could not comprehend what all those people were talking about. He was crushed, humiliated and in pain. He spoke pitiably a few times, “I do not know madam. I have not seen the corals in the little one’s neck at all.” And he said, “I am fond of bullemma garu more than my Sita. How could I touch any piece of jewelry on her?”

But nobody was willing to listen to his appeals.

Mother said, “Okay, you just return the chain like a nice boy. Why subject yourself to public humiliation?”

“But I did not take it madam. I don’t have it,” thatha said softly but clearly, and stood there as if he did not know what else he could do.

Babayi said, “Look, Lakshumanna, just return the piece politely and beg for our forgiveness. Otherwise, we will have to report to the police. And you know what happens when it falls into the hands of the police.”

Thatha was frightened at the mention of police. He shook like a leaf. Not a word came out of his mouth.

Just in time, police Narasayya was passing by. He saw the commotion and came in. “What? What happened?” he asked babayi, waving his baton.

“Nothing,” said babayi and narrated the entire incident as if he was telling a story.

Police Narasayya said, taunting thatha, “Why give us trouble? Make up your mind quickly … or you will be walking to the police station.” He gawked as he hit the ground with his baton.

Thatha was stricken with grief and stood there as if he lost his mind. Despair shrouded him and reflected in his eyes. It was burning him. Sita clung to his legs and cried loudly. Vasanti also felt it and wept.

Thatha stopped for a second not knowing what to do. And then, he walked toward his store as if he was sleepwalking. He opened the cashbox, and pulled out an old ten-rupee note, which was crumpled into a ball. He gave it babayi and said, “babu, I did not see the corals. But take this and leave me alone. I am poor … I am old. I cannot see clearly. What will you gain by badgering me, babu?” Tears sprang to his eyes as he spoke.

The people conferred for a while and decided that it’s better to take the money since they could not recover the corals.

Mother said, “The corals were worth twenty-five rupees. You offer ten rupees? Make it twenty. We will let you go since we’ve known you for so long.”

“Yes, that is right,” babayi said.

Thatha said, trembling, “That’s all I have. I cannot give you any more even if you kill me.” The empty cashbox slipped and fell on the ground with a bang.

Babayi was about to say something. Until now, father was sitting a little away, as if it was no concern of his; he was scared of mother’s loudmouth. He said, “Let him go, why pester the poor old man?”

With that, babayi kept quiet. So also mother.

Thatha held Sita’s hand and went away, walking slowly.

Police Narasayya ran his fingers through his hair as if he’d done something great, and held out his hand, and said, “Sir, whatever pleases you.” He got two rupees and left the scene. Rest of the crowd dispersed too.

Vasanti sat there in the hallway. Tears rolled down from her eyes without break. She knew that thatha did not take the corals … he would never take anything. But she could not tell that to anybody. She sat there watching thatha suffer and did nothing.

She wanted to run to thatha, hold his hand and tell him, “I know, thatha, you did not take my corals. Do not misunderstand me.” She went to the door. Mother came from behind, grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back into the house.

After that, mother never let her go near thatha’s store again.

One day Polamma was sweeping the floors in the upstairs room and found the coral chain. It popped out from under the chest of drawers.  Vasanti jumped for joy.

Polamma screamed, “Amma garu, the corals are here.”

Amma came running to upstairs and was surprised to see the red corals lying on the floor. She picked up the corals in her hand. She said happily and with a little embarrassment, “We had searched the entire house but never occurred to us to look under this chest.”

Polamma said, sounding philosophical, “It is all in that old man’s karma,” and went away waving the broom.

Vasanti said exuberantly, “Amma, shall I go and tell thatha that the coral were found.”

Mother held the corals close to her chest and sneered, “Cchi, how can we do that? What would the people say? Don’t they think that we’ve had the corals all this time and harassed the old man for nothing? What a shame, what a disgrace.”

Vasanti could not understand her mother’s logic. Thatha was humiliated, blamed for something he did not do, and there was no shame, no humiliation for him? But admitting that the corals had been found and that they had been wrong was shameful and inappropriate for mother!

She hoped that mother would call thatha and return his ten rupees as soon as the corals were found. But that did not happen. Additionally, whatever mother could have told Polamma, the fact that the corals were found never came to light. The relentless pain in her [Vasanti’s] heart remained forever. That her family had committed an abominable crime against the old man, and taken the ten-rupees, his sweat money, from him, remained a huge weight in her heart forever.

Thatha did not recuperate from this horrible incident for a very long time. He was devastated by the humiliation inflicted on him day by day. His business went down and finally was closed. Sita grew up and started working. Three of them were managing somehow with the measly earnings of Sita.

Vasanti used to stand on the terrace and watch Sita and thatha. She saw them watching her pitiably, kindly, and sadly. Then she felt ashamed, wiped her tears and went back into the house. Finally, she left that town. On that day, also thatha came out of his hut, and watched her go away in the cart, affectionately, and with tearful eyes. Poor thatha, he was hurt so badly but never forgot her.

Vasanti could never figure out what kind of blessings he had bestowed on her when he shed those tears but his ingenuous love enveloped her like a shadow and protected her.

***

Vasanti had never forgotten thatha despite the time elapsed and the numerous changed which had occurred in her life. Each time the corals in her neck moved, she was reminded of thatha. She longed on several occasions to pay off the debt she felt owed to him. But she was scared of her mother. She could do nothing about it.

                                       ***

The winds were blowing and the branches of the banyan tree were wavering. Mother shouted from downstairs room, “Come on to eat. Father is home.”

Vasanti covered baby with a sheet, got up and went into the kitchen. While eating, she asked her mother, “Old thatha and Sita—they used to live in the hut across from us. Where are they?”

Mother said with a grimace, “Who knows. Some four years back there was devastation and the old couple passed away, I guess. After that, some distant relative came and took Sita with him. I don’t know where she is now.”

Hum, thought Vasanti. It was heartrending for her but mother was saying it as if it meant nothing.

Vasanti could not relish the food. She quickly gobbled two bites and went back to the terrace. Mother was calling from behind, “What is that? You have not eaten.”

On the terrace, the baby was sleeping innocently, happily, and without a care in the world. She was holding the rubber doll tight to her chest. Tears filled Vasanti’s eyes. She sat on the cot, leaned forward and touched the curls on baby’s forehead gently. The corals from her neck dangled and touched baby’s lips. On that night in the moonlight, a distant star fell from the sky.

As she watched the baby’s eyes, sleep came over her. The corals rumbled heavily in her heart.

(End)

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net,July 2007.

***

(The Telugu original, pagadaalu, was published in the mid-forties.)

Selfish Man by Sarada (S. Natarajan)

A young man came to the lawyer Vijayaraghava Rao’s home around 11:00 in the morning. He was about seventeen. He was fair-complexioned and sweet-looking, yet his tattered shirt, pants, and the wretched expression on his face werespeaking of his poor disposition.

Hesitantly he walked toward Vijayaraghava Rao’s office room and stood by the entrance. It was Sunday. The lawyer just finished eating, chewing paan and reading the newspaper. He heard footsteps and looked up.

The young man stood there in all humility, rubbing his hands. He was not sure how to ask what he wanted; no word could come out his mouth. He was scared.

The lawyer threw the paper behind his chair and asked gently, “What is it you want to say, my boy?”

The young man was still unsure how to put it in words. He managed to walk one more step into the room while struggling to find the right words to say and looking at the law books. He said with great difficulty, “The thing, sir, I am studying here.”

A kind of curiosity showed in the lawyer’s demeanor. “It is all right, you can tell me,” he said. He thought of asking the young man to sit down but did not for some uncanny reason.

The young man still did not have the courage to look straight into the lawyer’s face. He said timidly, “I have the food arrangements for six days. I don’t have anybody yet for Sundays.”[i] Is it necessary to say the next words?

The lawyer looked at him head to foot keenly, examining him. He understood the young man’s predicament and asked kindly, “Don’t be afraid. What are you studying?”

There was a change in the young man’s manner. Probably hunger on one hand and walking in the sun on the other debilitated him, he could not stand anymore. He sat down on the floor and said, “I am in the 11th class, sir.”

Vijayaraghava Rao felt even more kind towards him. “You want food on Sundays. Of course, you can have, that is fine. What is your name?” he asked him with concern.

The young man said politely, “They call me Prakasa Rao, sir.”

The lawyer looked around as if he was trying to recall something and said, “By the way, did you eat today? If not, come in, take bath and eat.” Then he turned toward the next room and called, “Subrahmanyam!”

Subrahmanyam, the clerk, who was busy checking some case files, came in quickly, “You called me, sir?”

The lawyer nodded in assent and said, “Take this boy in and tell them to give him food.”

The clerk had never seen this kind of generosity in the lawyer in all the 10 to 15 years’ of his service. He was surprised yet without appearing so, asked the young man to follow him; they both went in.

***

Vijayaraghava Rao earns about five to six hundred rupees a month. He also inherited twenty acres of land and two houses. His son was studying law in Madras. We may assume that he had no problems in this world. There was one huge worry for him—that is his daughter who was born an invalid. Padmavati was born with weak legs, which rendered her incapable of walking. It is no surprise that watching her crawl on her scrawny legs brought him inexplicable pain at heart and other problems. But for the weak legs, she had no other limitations in any way. Her father arranged for her studies at home. She had enchanting voice. Except the legs, we must admit that she was gorgeous. The only thing bothered the father was what was in store for her in future. Generally speaking, it is natural for the mother to have such worry rather than father. She discussed about their daughter with her husband several times. She did so even on the day the young man came to their house for the first time.

The lawyer was in the kitchen and eating supper. He looked at his daughter, sighed and told himself, “I have plenty of money, yet what does it matter?”

Mother was serving food. She said, “Emandi, is this how it is going to be? I am nagging forever. Or, are you also thinking about it?”

“Am I sitting around doing nothing? Why do you talk as if you are the only one worried and I am not?” the lawyer said.

Mother poured buttermilk into his plate and said, choking, “God is not kind to my baby, otherwise…”

The daughter was trying to understand the conversation going on between her father and mother. She asked, “What is it, father?” She wanted to say something but could not.

Father said, touching her back tenderly, “Don’t you worry about these things. You eat and go to bed.”

Mother also said the same thing.

Padma however was smart in some ways; she understood their concern and seemed to ask why they should worry thus. She turned to her father, looked at him perplexed and asked, “Daddy, are you talking about my marriage?”

Vijayaraghava Rao felt a little embarrassed yet replied, “Yes, my dear.” He decided that it was not fair to keep it from her, considering she was fifteen, educated and worldly-wise.

“Father, do I have to get married?” she asked, having come to a decision in her own mind.

Mother said, chiding, “What kind of talk is that, my girl? Don’t talk your half-baked ideas.”

Father was surprised. He said, not chiding though, “What’s that? Why are talking like that? Why don’t you want to marry?”

Daughter believed strongly that her father could understand her. She said, “Father, I will spend my immobile life in this house only. Why do you want to marry me off to somebody and make my life even more ridiculous? Like my brother, I will also live here in the same house. Am I a burden to you, father?” Her voice became hoarse and her eyes showed sings of moisture.

Mother was distressed by the daughter’s words but father was quite used to this rhetoric. He said, comforting her, “My girl, what you said is true yet you have to think about your future. Who knows how things are going to be in this house after your mother and I are gone. How can we trust that your future sister-in-law would be nice to you? If you have a man whom you can call yours, then there is no escape for him from his duty. Look, you may say we have money. But how can we settle with money alone? Don’t you have to have a person for support? You tell me, dear.”

He laid it out so well yet he was also worried by the same question—whether he could bring a bridegroom for her. He could offer one half of his wealth yet nobody from his part of society would come forward to accept the proposal.

They all finished eating and got up to wash hands. Prakasa Rao was standing in the verandah under the shade probably for supper. Padma’s mother Rukminamma called him, “Come, Prakasam!”

Vijayaraghava Rao looked keenly at the young man one more time as he passed him in the hallway.

Padma spent all night thinking about the same topic.

It was the third week since Prakasam had started his weekly arrangement at the lawyer’s house. Prakasam had no one in this world that he could call his. Possibly, there were some distant relatives but none of them would fall into the category of “my people.” One may call a friend “my friend” no matter however wicked that person is but that is not the case with relatives. Prakasam’s attitude was also the same. That was the reason he continued his studies by collecting donations and making food arrangements at the houses of kind people.

It seems he was not able to collect sufficient funds for the fee for that month, so he decided to ask the lawyer. First he thought he would go straight from school to their house and then wondered if the lawyer would be home at that time of the day. He then decided to ask for money at night when he went for supper.

That night, Prakasam’s hungry voice moved the lawyer who was deeply lost in his thoughts.

“Sir, Pantulu garu!” Prakasam said.

Pantulu garu came out of his reverie and said, “Come in, dear boy, have you eaten? Come, sit here on this bench.”

Prakasam took those words as premonition of his success; he did not sit but said timidly, “Sir, the thing sir, the school fee for this month …” he stopped as if he was choked to complete the sentence.

The lawyer understood the boy’s thought and asked, “how much?” as pulled out the drawer and took out a ten rupee bill.

That was the first time Prakasam had ever seen a ten rupee bill. He said, “Six and a half, sir” and walked closer to receive the money.

The lawyer looked the boy up and down for some reason and asked, “Boy, where are staying?”

“In Dikshitulu garu’s house, sir,” he said, putting the money in the pocket of his tattered shirt.

The lawyer seemed to have come to some conclusion. He said in a voice, filled with enormous kindness, “Come here, sit. I’d like to speak a word with you. Do you mind?”

Prakasam sat down on the carpet, laid on the floor.

Probably, the lawyer had finished the process of thinking in his mind; he said with a determined voice, “Starting tomorrow, you stay with us. Why hop from place to place? Why arrange for food for each day in different homes? Why worry about school fee like this? I will pay for your education up to whatever you want to study. Is that okay with you?” He looked into the boy’s face.

Prakasam’s countenance turned blood red, having succumbed to surprise, under the brilliance of electric lights. He could not figure out whether it was a dream or truth. After two or three minutes, he could say, “Yes, sir.”

The lawyer got up from his chair, put his hand on Prakasam’s shoulder and said as he walked him to the door, “You hire a rickshaw and bring all your stuff.”

Prakasam felt was embarrassed or something. “I have only a blanket and one more pair of clothes there sir,” he said stuttering and left quickly.

***

Five months passed by. The heat from sun and the moonlight continued to be as usual. Prakasam’s lifestyle however shot up to higher echelon. Poplin shirts, Glasgow dhotis and bicycle were not the signs for his echelon. Usually, a poor man’s thought also flow only a smaller scale. Even his dreams would not think up of valuable things. In fact Prakasam had no dreams at all. Prakasam used to hope for a better shirt than the tattered one and own book instead of studying somebody else’s book five months back; now all those thoughts were gone; he started dreaming big dreams.

In the lawyer’s home, he had every kind of freedom one could hope for. The lawyer’s wife, Rukminamma was treating him with great kindness and affection. We cannot say Prakasam came to understand all the ramifications in that family, but he understood a few things in that house. Because of what he had learned, a few desires came to his mind. As if to reinforce those desires, his familiarity with Padma also started to grow. Padma liked him because of his poverty. She and Prakasa Rao were sitting down in the evenings and chat. Rukminamma enjoyed watching them thus sitting together and chatting. The lawyer garu also remained silent, as if supporting their meetings.

As one becomes worldly-wise, one also understands the society much better. In this society, one earns respect only when his financial position has improved. In reality, the respect accorded and the value attributed to the good and bad qualities and artistic talents are very little. In many places, it may be none. This perception of this societal reality had occurred to Prakasam. The people who had not said hello to him previously were showing respect not just to his clothes but him too. His humility and good nature were not noticed but now they were.

Things being such, there was no surprise he wished to have this kind of life forever. But then, how could he obtain this respect permanently? While he was pondering on these lines, his mind turned to the lawyer’s disabled daughter. She was beautiful and educated but with useless legs. She would never be able to get married. What if she … to him … he did not have the courage to think further. Although she was lame, would they marry her to an orphan like him? He felt dejected, chided himself and kept quiet. Probably, those who were down on their luck for sometime suffer from inferiority complex always.

Lawyer garu did not say anything until Prakasam had finished high school. He did not let him feel wanting for anything.

Prakasam finished high school and approached the lawyer garu one fine evening to obtain his permission

Lawyer garu saw him and showed him the chair next to him. He noticed that Prakasam came to ask for something. Amicably as usual, he turned down the radio volume and he asked, “What do you want, dear boy?”

Prakasam wanted to give some opening statements but did not know what to say; he said in a humble voice, “I would like to study Intermediate.”

“Of course, go ahead,” lawyer garu said. There was some anxiety in his voice, a kind of struggle, as if he wanted to say something.

Prakasam was waiting for his words.

Lawyer garu turned off the radio and said as if he was examining the boy’s psyche, “There was something I wanted to tell you for sometime now.”

Prakasam was silent, as if wondering what kind of thunderbolt was about to strike.

The lawyer garu had thought it out thoroughly. He had guessed earlier that as a result of the conveniences he had provided for him, Prakasam would accept his proposal. He said, “Dear boy, you said you have none whom you could call your own. You would remember forever, if I help you to improve your lot. However, there is one worry that has been bothering me day and night—worried about the future for my daughter?” His voice was choked after that; he could speak no more.

Prakasam’s heart started racing; he wondered what he could be saying next. “Tell me, sir,” he said, getting ready to hear whatever the lawyer had to say.

“I cannot be free from the worry, until and unless I see my daughter married. I will make sure that you have no worries in any manner for the rest of your life.”

Prakasam seemed to have understood his approach. “That is fine, sir. Do you have to go on explaining like this? How can I repay you for all the help you had given me?” he said quickly.

Lawyer garu just said, “That’s good, dear boy.”

Padma’s marriage with Prakasa Rao was performed quietly without much flourish. Lawyer garu created a document appropriating one house and ten acres of land to Padma. Prakasa Rao thought of asking to put it in his name. But for a person who feels a kind of lowliness, words do not come out of the mouth easily. After the wedding ceremony was over, some annoyance bothered Prakasa Rao and made him lose his peace of mind. He put an end to his studies. The reason for his annoyance was the few friends and others who commented on his wedding day that he was a fortunate man, looking at him pitiably. The reason for their pity—was it the fact he would not be able to go on walks with his wife, like they do? … He could go on thinking further but his mind would not let him, he kept quiet. Following lawyer’s advice, he started his family life in the house that was willed to Padma. He hired a cook. Life was going smoothly. Yes, he did not the kind of pleasures he had expected in life from Padma.

Prakasa Rao was not a bad person; he could not however remain committed to his wife. He was not sleeping at him twenty days a month. Padma understood the circumstances clearly; she did not blame him. It was not because of her weakness though. She had never favored the idea of marriage from the start. She could not show affection specifically towards Prakasa Rao either. She believed strongly that if anybody came forward to become her husband, he would do so only because of plenty of selfishness on his part. Possibly that was the truth. Even Prakasa Rao had consented to this marriage only because of his poverty but not because his generous heart softened. His selfishness was so obvious she was not hurt and that was no surprise. Prakasa Rao never ridiculed her.

He kept quiet as if his behavior was the answer to all the questions one might raise. Yet there was one issue that had been bothering him rather frequently. That is the eternal question if there has ever been one. Money is necessary to hook up with another woman. Naturally, a person’s needs grow as his awareness improves too. Amidst his financial problems, he found asking his wife for money even more frustrating. But what could he do? Whatever little property they had was in registered in her name.

Possibly the lawyer did not foresee things to take this turn, he nevertheless put the property in Padma’s name, suspecting what could happen.

Prakasa Rao took as many loans as he could through respectable channels. But for how long? The loans totaled to seven or eight hundred; he was forced to ask his wife.

“Padma! I need eight hundred rupees,” he said in a voice filled with affection.

Padma looked into his eyes and said, “Eight hundred? Wherefrom I can get?”

“How can I say? Ask your mother or father …” he did not finish the sentence. He was awestruck by the change in her bright countenance.

With disgust all over her face, she said definitively, “I don’t have it and I am not going to ask them.”

Prakasa Rao, who never had shown anger, was furious and shaken. Nonsense, she could say it in no uncertain terms only because he was hanging around there for her food. There was only one way to avenge himself on her—leave this lame bitch. The thought about his own future appeared became irrelevant at this point.

Prakasa Rao, got off the bed. “You lame bitch! You showed me respect wonderfully for living with you. That’s enough. I can live anywhere. It is over between you and me,” so saying, he walked towards the door.

Padma kept quiet, did not say a word. She did not fall on his feet, contrary to Prakasa Rao’s expectations. Not only at that time, never had she been worried about him for the rest of her life.

***

(Author’s note: You need not wonder why this story ended so abruptly. The story would have a happy ending, if Padma had suffered from inferiority complex about her physical disability. If I had to make Padma fall on Prakasa Rao’s feet, there is no need to write this story at all. After all, Prakasa Rao did not marry Padma to make her happy only.)

***

The Telugu original, swarthaparudu, was probably written in the early fiftees. The current version for this translation has been taken from an anthology raktasparsa published in 1963.

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


[i] A custom in Andhra Pradesh, according to which, seven families offer poor students to feed, one day each, to help them continue with their education.

Balivada Kantha Rao by Nidadavolu Malathi

Balivada Kantha Rao, a conscientious writer, is a reputable writer from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. He was born in Madapam in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh on July 3, 1927. He was eight when the family moved to Visakhapatnam for his education.

While he was in the eighth grade, Kantha Rao acted as the editor of a hand-written, school magazine entitled vidyarthi. He said that two persons by the same name, Suryanarayana—his father and his teacher—had been his inspiration and contributed to shaping his interests to become a writer.

At 17, he started working as a clerk in the Indian navy and soon became a civilian officer. While working in the Navy, he had the opportunity to travel and get acquainted not only with different parts of the country but also different cultures, especially tribal communities. The knowledge he had acquired through these experiences enriched his fiction greatly.

First, let me apologize for this rather brief article, I am aware there is lot more to write about him but could not for want of resources. I hope this will persuade you to find other sources and read more about Kantha Rao.

Probably, Kantha Rao could have achieved greater recognition had he courted some ideology. In fact, that is where his strength lay. He did not commit himself to any one particular ideology and limit his creativity to promote that one ideology. Instead, he took pains to scrutinize life from a wide variety of perspectives, studied them methodically including tribal communities and presented them in his stories. His canvas is not just Andhra Pradesh but the entire country.

Kantha Rao’s first novel Sarada was published in 1947. Regarding its publication, the author says it was rejected by one magazine and then he submitted it to Chitragupta. When asked whether rejection ever curbed his enthusiasm, Kantha Rao commented that the rejections actually made him even more determined to pursue his literary career (Yohan babu. Interview.).

As it turned out, his determination and self-confidence were well rewarded. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories Kantha Rao tells us how the publishing went in the early days: He sent a story to Bharati, a highly regarded literary magazine and they published it not in Bharati but in Andhra Patrika, a popular weekly magazine, run by the same management. Later, he sent another story to the weekly magazine and the editors published it in the monthly magazine, Bharati!

 In his early novels such as godameeda bomma [Picture on the Wall] (1953), and dagaa padina tammudu [The Betrayed Little Brother], (1957) he dealt with familial themes covering shorter period. For instance, dagaa padina tammudu is a story that happened in one decade. In his later novels however he took several generations to illustrate his views on a wide variety of subjects. He says Vamsadhara [The River Vamsadhara located in the author’s village] is a case in point; it extends over a span of three generations. He believes that in order to illustrate the metamorphoses of social change meaningfully, it is necessary to extend over a period of three generations.

At the time of writing this novel, Kantha Rao was living in Delhi. The platform for this novel is his village and covers events for a period of about fifty years, starting from 1918. Since he left his village in 1936, he decided to go back to his village and gather the necessary information for it. Several individuals—his friends and his father’s friends—gave him valuable information which helped him to develop his characters truthfully, and also obtain some of the colloquialisms and nuances, which he incorporated in his story.

Asked by Dr. Yohan Babu for his reason to change the ending in Vamsadhara in his later edition, Kantha Rao said that his friends pointed out the discrepancies between his rendering and the actual events. “I believe that a writer must not be influenced by his own preferences, must not depict events contrary to the truth; and should never rush to conclusions quickly.” It took nine years for him to get it in the form of a book and he was pleased with the final product, he added. He was hoping that the views expressed in it would provoke the future readers into thinking.

The novel discusses several aspects—political ideologies, religious beliefs, social customs, and the lifestyles of various tribes —in unusual detail. The novel could be labeled “the Story of modern day India”, considering its range and depth, commented Dr. Yohan babu.

Delhi majileelu is another major work of Kantha Rao. He says, “It is a well-researched product. After finishing this big novel, I felt like I have received a doctoral degree. It took six years to finish it. Even the format is different in that it includes stories within stories and contains extensive discussions on all walks of our lives—political, social, economic and cultural—from Dharmaraja’s Indraprasthapuram to today’s New Delhi. I am very pleased with it regardless it has not caught the public attention yet. Sales are still low. Maybe, it gets noticed after it is translated into Hindi some day.”

Here are some of the opinions Kantha Rao has expressed in his interview by Yohan Babu:

On current writers – Good writers could become ordinary writers, if labeled as great writers. If writers focus only on fame and money, quality of good writing goes down. There are several writers today who have overcome these limitations and are writing well. They are the ones who would prolong this thread of literature and carry it forward.”

His reason to continue writing short stories and not novels is writing a novel is harder and after writing there is no guarantee that it gets published.

Writers who influenced his style: There are not many he could quote. Bengali writer, Sarathchandra Chatterjee’s influence is evident in his novel, Annapurna. After that, he developed rather the ill-conceived notion that, “If I read great fiction written in other languages, I would be influenced by them and my stories would reflect that influence. However, now I feel I missed out on something—I don’t know what makes a novel great.”

In response to a question whether his education in psychology helped him to delineate his characters, Kantha Rao said he never made a conscious effort to apply his theories to characters since he never studied them from that perspective. After he created the characters however they might have been recast into those theories.

Three novels janmabhumi [The Motherland], punyabhumi [The Pious land] and karmabhumi [The Land of Action] reflect his political views. He, being a government employee, was not in a position to depict prevalent political conditions in his novels, and for that reason created an imaginary country, he said.

He considers tradition to be a “withered branch and change does not happen if one hangs on to the dried up branches. No society can progress without change,” which explains his creation of some characters to be anti-traditional.

Kantha Rao believed in checking the minutest details and being truthful to his characters. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu, he states that all his stories were based on his observation of real life events and all characters on the people he had come across in real life. The story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast] is one such story. It was based on a person whom he had met while he was working in Mumbai. He created strong female characters in his novels for the same reason. He had seen in his village such exemplary women who believed in upright living and depicted them in his stories.

To give an example of his writing, let me discuss the story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast]. It revolves round a class IV employee in the office of the protagonist, Sayeba. The man, Patil, never gets to work on time and is drunk most of the time. He spends not only his money on liquor but also harasses his wife for money. He never bothers to find how she was managing to bring the money. Sayeba tries to change Patil’s behavior by giving him money at first and later by lecturing him. Patil justifies his drinking by ranting about the prevalent injustices in society. Sayeba seems to understand Patil’s logic and continues to give him money.

Eventually, Patil shows some change which does not last long though. One day, he overhears two policemen talking about his wife sleeping with other men. Thinking they were rumors, he attacks the policemen for speaking ill of his wife. The policemen throw him in jail. Patil calls Sayeba to bail him out. Later however he learns the truth—that she was prostituting herself to earn the money, he murders her. He goes to Sayeba’s home and tells him that Sayeba was the only person who had treated him like a man.

For me the story is intriguing. It raises several questions. If the author intended to maintain that Patil became a habitual drunk because of the injustices in the society, his attitude towards his wife makes no sense. And to kill her because she was earning money by prostituting herself further complicates the issue and presents him in a dubious light. After much debate, I have come to believe that the author attempted to illustrate the complexity in human nature. Ever so often, human behavior is inexplicable. It never fits into a theory like a hand in a glove. If we are willing to make that concession, we will find some comfort in the thought that the protagonist was able to see some change in Patil.

I liked the story The Truth about Desires (see translation of this story) for a couple of reasons. It is human nature to wish to improve one’s life and work for it. Call it progress, call it better life—we all want something more. However, if the wishing and working for better life changes into a craving for popularity, it could become disastrous.

naalugu manchaalu [four beds] is one of his short novels. It depicts the lives of four persons lying in four beds in a hospital. Actually, it is a story of three individuals drawn together by a fourth person, Sundaram, who connects them to the outside world and also takes care of their business and his own in the outside world. Sundaram could accomplish it by being in and out of hospital for his health problem. It is an interesting concept—how seemingly unrelated people could become entangled in a web of relationships. It is done well.

Kantha Rao quotes three incidents that helped him to develop his technique.

In his childhood days, Golla Ramaswamy, a bard in his village used to narrate wide variety of stories to the audience under a tree. “I learned from him how to make a story interesting to read.”

In his adult years, one day, he saw some children fight and that grow into a squabble among adults. Among them, one woman’s brother was standing, away from them and watching the squabble. Kantha Rao asked him why he did not interfere and stop the squabble. The brother replied that he needed to obtain an unbiased opinion and that would be possible only when he stood at a distance and watched them. “From that incident I have learned that a writer must be unbiased.”

On another occasion, he saw a brief memo about a junior officer’s work. The note said, “Several senior officers have learned about solving disputes between the administration and the labor force from him (the junior officer).” The junior officer was promoted superseding the other senior officers. “From that, I have learned that we get results only when we tell a story straight and succinctly,” said Kantha Rao.

Kantha Rao passed away on May 6, 2000.

 Sources:

Yohan babu, G. Balivada Kantha Rao gari navalalu—oka pariseelana. Visakhapatnam: Dipteja publications, 1995.

Kantha Rao, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1994.

Some of the stories by Balivada Kantha Rao are translated into English by Sijata Patnaik, in the book entitled The Secret of Contentment and Other Telugu Short Stories.  2002. ISBN 8120724604. It is available on Amazon.com.

 I am grateful to Dr. Yohan Babu and Balivada Kantha Rao for his foreword cited above.

(End)

(This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been originally published on thulika.net, December 2010)

 

Ravuru Venkata Satyanarayana Rao

Wedding Garments by Ravuru Venkata Satyanarayana Rao.

 Puttanna owned a hut with two center beams. He put up the two beams to provide a shade over their heads. Actually, the husband and wife had been the two beams for that hut. Puttanna and Sitamma were of the same height not only physically but also at heart. If you see them you would wonder if the Creator had split one soul into two, created bodies for them and sent them into this world, saying “go, play for a while and return.”

Puttanna was a weaver by profession. But for a few hours a day, he would keep throwing the shuttle in his hand all day, weaving the cloth in the frame. Sitamma would never leave the spinning wheel. Working by the side of her husband, her job was to separate the yarn, winding it on the bobbins, starching the cloth when it was spread, and brushing them. They never felt like that they were slogging. They had accepted their work as a yajnam. Sitamma’s eyes bloomed each time she finished rolling one bobbin. Each time Puttanna wove a piece of cloth, a smile spread on his lips like snake gourd flowers.

In front of their hut, there was a ganuga tree. Their cow was tied to a pole under the tree. The cow was a sight, sporting a discolored ocher, the two horns straight up and joined at the apex, and the heavy udders down by their generous nature. That ocher-colored cow had a white baby ox. The baby ox was tied to a pole far away from the mother cow. The mother cow would look at her baby and moo often. At other times, she would crane her neck and watch the village. For her, the baby ox was not the only baby, she had many adopted children. From them, each morning there would be an inflow of spouted pots. Puttanna would milk the cow, fill those pots, and return home with his empty pot. If you see him at that moment, you would notice moonbeams on his face. The reason for that light on his face was his gratification that his cow’s milk was being used for the little ones in the village.

Puttanna’s ancestors had lived in that village for a very long time. Cherishing the good relationship which had been handed down from generation to generation was an important goal for him. Whenever a wedding took place in any home in the village, he must weave the special garments, madhuparkaalu,[i] and give to the bride and groom. During the wedding season each year, he would spend days and nights at the loom. Sitamma would not lift her hand off the spinning wheel or so it would appear. They would not accept money for madhuparkaalu. The bride and groom would wear those clothes, sit on the wedding planks and pour talambralu [rice smeared with turmeric] on each other’s heads. Watching the event and shedding tears of joy—had been a custom for Puttanna and Sitamma for a very long time

Puttanna had no desire for charity from others. Good deed and duty were his fortress that needed no assembly. Sitamma had not asked for anything beyond that either. However, the cow had to be fed. Therefore, the people who came with spouted pots also would bring feedstuff and sesame slabs, a by-product in sesame oil production. During the thrashing season, one farmer would bring hay after thrashing was done, without Puttanna ever asking for it. Another would bring bales of jute stalks and throw them on the roof for the cows to chew on. They would not listen if Puttanna objected. “Your cow is the kamadhenu, the heavenly cow,” they would say, smiling, and go.

Anyway, with all his money going into making madhuparkaalu each year, his entire income disappeared eventually. He was too proud to ask for a loan. He would say to Sitamma, “Ayya [his father] used to say better to kill oneself than ask for a loan.”  Sitamma would agree, “Would I accept loan? How could I bear even to consider that? Isn’t it like the big eagles eating up the little birds in the nest?”

While things were being like this, a wedding came up at the house of Papayya, the village alderman. Usually, in their village, weddings would not be performed in the Sravana[ii] month. However the family were worried that Papayya’s mother was losing her sight. She said, “wouldn’t you let me see my granddaughter’s wedding?”. Papayya was moved by her words and set the date for the wedding. And they decided to perform it in five days.

Sitamma went to the well and on her way back, she saw Papayya. He said, “Sister, we’ve set the date for my girl’s wedding next Saturday. Tell bava also.”

“Yes, annayya! You’ve given me good news. I’m going home with water, will come to your place later and talk to vadina,” she said and left. At hearing the news of wedding, smiles rose on her face but after walking few steps they gone. She quickly went home and put down the pot. She passed the news to her husband. At first, he laughed and then the laugh was squashed like a lamp lit in the wind.

“We can bear physical labor but where can we get the yarn?” he fretted.

“Maybe, just for this once …” Sitamma said and stopped.

 “Just for this once … what? Do away with custom—is that what you’re saying? I cannot do away with custom. I would rather do away with my life,” he said, struggling to control himself.

“I did not say do away with custom.”

“Then what did you say?”

“Maybe, a loan.”

“Don’t say that to me. If we take one rupee on loan, the man who gave us would get a sway you can’t even imagine. Now we have good sleep for a while at least. Even that would be gone. When I remember the loan, can I remain steady and weave the woof? I will not take a loan no matter what,” he said, dabbing his eyes with his uttareeyam.

Sitamma felt bad inside for bringing it up. “Yes. Don’t borrow,” she said.

They both kept quiet for a long time. Then Puttanna closed his face in his palms and said, “Maybe, the cow …”

“The cow?” said Sitamma.

Silence fell between them once again. They both felt unutterable pain in their hearts.

“What can we do? Instead of letting go of the custom, handed down from generations, isn’t it better to let go of the cow? Enough if we give the clothes in time for this one wedding. We can go away from this town, by next wedding season, if that’s what it takes. The custom does not follow us to the next village, right?” he said.

“If we sell the milk cow, what happens to all those who are coming for milk every day?” she said.

“What else can we do? So be it. Let’s sell it right here in town. All the families with babies can go there and get the milk,” he said.

“Would they have that kind of sense?” said Sitamma.

“We can think only so far, not beyond. I will put the cow on the market today itself. After I am done eating, I will go the city and bring the yarn,” said Puttanna.

“All right,” said Sitamma.

Puttanna dabbed his tears hard with his uttareeyam, untied the knot on his head, shook the hairs and tied up again and left.

The rays of daylight were rising just then. The moon was showing up on the top end of the ganuga tree as if it was stuck there. The cow lowed as Puttanna stepped into the yard. Puttanna could not control his grief. He went and embraced her neck. “Are you angry with me? Are you hurt that I am selling you? What can I do? I’ve got to do this for the sake of custom. Wherever you are, I will come and visit you everyday. I have been worshipping you like goddess. If not you, who else can save me now?” he said, wiping her entire body with his uttareeyam. Hardly able to leave her, he left.

Next morning, he broke a branch from the ganuga tree and brushed his teeth The sun on the east rose halfway up; the rays were shrouding the village. Birds, still in their nests, were wiggling their wings. The spouted pots arrived at Puttanna’s home. There was no cow. An old woman asked, “Puttanna, where is the cow?”

“I sold it, amma!” Puttanna said, without turning back.

Ayyo! You’ve sold it? What happens to our babies now? Because you are pouring a mouthful for them, they’ve been sleeping well, and going into fits,” the woman said.

“What can I do, Amma? It’s the times! When I sold, I told Acchanna, the buyer, to continue giving milk to the children,” he said.

The people with spouted pots stood there looking despondent.

The local priest was one of the people who came for milk. He came forward and said, “You are a saint, you’ve made a sacrifice for the children. Because of that, so many stomachs were filled and the babies slept well, so many mother’s eyes were grateful.”

“What can I do, Babu! I wouldn’t have sold the cow if it were for my livelihood only. I had to sell it to save my standing in the village,” said Puttanna.

“That is our ill-luck,” the priest said.

Just then, Sitamma came out. She said, “Here, listen, I’m going to Acchanna to hand over the kuditi[iii] pot to him.”

“Go ahead. Starting today, and with that kuditi pot, our ties with the cow are cut off forever,” Puttanna said.

***

Papayya’s wife came with two new bed sheets, showed it to granny. Granny was braiding the bride Parvati’s hair and asked, “Pinni! Which one between these two should I use?”

Granny held Parvati’s braid with one hand, fingered the two sheets with the other and said, “Both are so so. Use one and fold the other and leave it on the head side of the bed.”

Parvati’s mother took Parvati’s face into her palm and asked, “Which one you would like?”

“You are asking her, what for? All she cares is her man is good, what does it matter how everything else?” said granny.

Parvati’s mother went inside with the sheets. Granny said, “Parvati! Never mind all this teasing. You’re going to meet your husband for the first time. One life is going to become two, and the two lives will become one. This youth and love are not going to last till you win him over. The only things that stay forever are sacrifice and dharma. You two keep that in mind. I’ll tell you a story. If he asks you to talk, tell him this. This is not from some far off place. You know our Puttanna, this is his story. This is not from longtime back but the present. Do you know what a great sacrifice he had made.” So saying, she narrated the entire story—how he had sold the cow to make madhuparkaalu for them.

Parvati heard it entirely and kept thinking. From that reflection, the thought that she should help Puttanna somehow rose like a ball of wool.

Granny tightened the braid and finished it with kuppelu[iv]. Granny sat there playing with the warped flowers, left after the braid was done.

 

In the bedroom, Parvati stood next to the bed. Rammurthy, the groom, smiled and pulled took the coin, navarsu, from his pocket and reached for her sari palloo. She quickly stepped back.

“Gold, gold,” he said. Let us assume he was calling her by that name. He knotted the sari end with the gold coin and said, “You may spend this as you please. On the first night, a man should not accept a woman without tendering gold.”

She was drawing lines on the floor with her toe.

He seized her hand.

The incense sticks burnt to ashes half-way through.

She started telling him the story—how Puttanna sold his cow to make ‌madhuparkaalu for them.

Rammurthy lay back on the pillow and listened to the story, holding Parvati’s kuppelu in his fist. At the end, he said, “We have to bow to Puttanna for making such a great sacrifice. He did his duty and we should do ours.”

“What is our duty?” asked Parvati.
”We will return the cow to him.”

“Will Puttanna agree to that?” Parvati said, looking into her husband’s eyes.

“I’ll think of the details. By daybreak, the cow must be in Puttanna’s yard. By the way, where is Acchanna’s house?” he asked.

“The house just next to Rama mandiram!”

“If so, I will be there by the time the rooster crowed. Pay him the money, and tell him to hand over the cow to Puttanna.”

“But, if I buy the cow with this gold …”

“Is there a better deed than that, Parvati! You told me about a magnanimous man on our first night. Youth is like a white horse in our lives. No doubt there is a pleasure in riding on it. Yet there is a great commentary in traveling with our eyes on an objective. Let us not fare like all others blinded by youth. Let us fare with greater good as our goal. You’ve convinced me that you will be my arthangi [half of oneself] in achieving that goal. The belief that our lives will be blessed has showed up in my mind,” he said, rearranging Parvati’s curls.

”What else can I ask for but walking in your steps and share an unwavering life with you?” Parvati said with boundless joy. Rammurthy drew her head towards his chest. Her heart clung to his soul like the dharma to sacrifice. Just then, the rooster crowed. She jerked. He laughed and held her tighter to his heart.

Puttanna and his wife stayed focused on their duty until the madhuparkaalu were delivered to the wedding party. That job was done. The weight in their hearts lightened. But they missed the cow most. Somehow they consoled themselves and fell asleep. The cow appeared in their dream. Puttanna heard the cow bellowing. He got with a jerk, pulled some hay from the top of his hut and took it to the tree in the front yard. He saw the empty pole standing sadly. His heart felt like it sustained cracks and a few pieces fell. He went in and lay down, could not sleep. Felt like the cow came, rubbed her face against his stomach, was asking him to scratch. He sat up suddenly. His eyes were piercing through the roof and the heart into the void. He remembered the words of the priest, “the children were sleeping without hiccups because of the milk, you had poured.”

Then followed the cries of the children, came haunting. He shut his ears tight and called, “Sita, Sita.” He told her about his feelings. “Why worry about the things past. We have to think about what is next,” she said. “Did God think of the things to come? All we can do is only to feel sorry for what happened,” Puttanna said and went out.

The beams on the east were spreading. Puttanna could not look at the pole, he bent his head. “Moo,” he heard the cow bellow. He thought that was also his imagination and looked up. The cow was standing under the ganuga tree. He ran to her, embraced her neck, called “Sita, Sita!, the cow freed herself and came back.”

“What do you mean ‘freed herself’? Wasn’t she tied to the pole as always?” she said.

Both of them were awestruck. Who would have brought and tied her to the pole? Maybe, she freed herself and was wandering on the streets. Probably a passerby saw that, being unaware it was sold, tied it to this pole.” Puttanna said and started wiping her horns with his uttareeyam. He felt like he had heard one horn say, “you taught us to sacrifice” and the second horn say, “How can we achieve your sanctity?” as he wiped them.

“It was time for milking. Let’s drive her to Acchanna’s home,” he said, untying the rope from the pole.

“We can take her there after letting her eat a sheaf of janapa,” the wife said.

“Let’s take the bunch also there. Babies’ parents might be there for milk,” he said. He untied the rope and started to walk with the rope in his hand. The cow did not move. “No other way. We have to hand her over,” he said. The cow started walking as if she had heard his words. She walked forward. Sitamma followed them, holding the janapa pack. They barely walked a few yards; they saw Acchanna. He said that Papayya’s son-in-law gave him money and so he brought back the cow and tied to the pole in their yard.

The couple looked at each other. “What do you mean he gave you the money?” asked Puttanna.

“Maybe it was a loan,” Sitamma said.

“We’ll turn in the cow and ask him. Let’s go,” Puttanna said and turned to Acchanna, “You keep the cow at your place, Bava!

“I’ve got the money in my bag,” Acchanna said.

Husband and wife brought back the cow and tied her to the pole under the ganuga tree, and went to Papayya’s house.

Papayya’s son-in-law was sitting on a plank, decorated with silver flowers and brushing his teeth. Next to him was a silver jug. The father-in-law was standing by the patio and was waiting just in case his son-in-law would say something; he was ready to respond if the son-in-law asks. Papayya’s wife came to the window, saw the son-in-law, pulled the sari palloo over her shoulders and smiled at her husband. He stuck out his tongue, meaning she should go in.

Puttanna and his wife came.

Bava! Showed up so early in the morning, what is the matter? Thinking of leaving my sister at her maternal home?” asked Papayya.

“Do I have to come if that is the case? My Peddamma used to say that no need of permission for daughters-in-law to go to parents’ home and for blackbirds to coo,” Puttanna said.

Papayya was tickled but did not laugh, reminding himself that his son-in-law was there. He cast a glance sideways at his son-in-law.

Rammurthy was about gurgle but could not control his laugh. He spit it out.

“Our Puttanna bava. He is the one that had made madhuparkaalu for you. Not just you, for any wedding, he is the one that supplies them but would never accept a paisa. He is that generous,” said Papayya.

“I know,” Rammurthy said.

“What I do is generous? What? Did I have temples built? Or, temple tops? Or had built chowltries? I came to ask your son-in-law a question,” Puttanna said.

“What is that?” Papayya asked, surprised.

“I sold the cow to Acchanna. Your son-in-law bought it and brought to my home back and left it in my yard.”

“Ha? Your cow?”

“Yes, I tied it in your place. I’ve got the education from you only. You sold it as your dharma. And I bought it for the same reason and brought it back to you. Can you say that it is wrong for us young people to learn about sacrifice and dharma?”

“I am not saying it is wrong. … But I am asking why donate the cow to a person like me? If you give it some family who has children, then you’ll reap the fruit but not to me …”

“I know, thatha. If you have the cow at your place, ten babies would be fed each day. If I give to somebody else, only their stomachs would be filled.”

“Probably that is true. Yet it is not right I should take the cow from you. I will give you an IOU.”

“You will write an IOU, thatha? You’ve given us madhuparkaalu for what IOU we have given you? Has ever been a time when you have given madhuparkaalu that can be settled with an IOU? These promissory notes have been put into place only because of lack of sense of cooperation and dharma. The god had signed one promissory note to the entire human kind, which said it is only fair that the haves should pay off the notes signed by the have-nots,” said Rammurthy.

Parvati, standing by the window, was listening the entire conversation. Puttanna stood there without uttering a word. The words spoken by his son-in-law sounded like a shower of nectar to Papayya. He was peeking into his son-in-law’s heart through that windows of his words. He thought it was his luck that he should get such a fine man as –son-in-law; “no, no, it was the good deeds my Parvati had done in her previous birth.”

“So be it, Thatha, think that that cow is not yours, you are its trustee. Keep donating the cow’s milk to the children in the village.”

Puttanna’s joy knew no bounds. “If that is my job, I would do it, dancing. They say there is plenty of goodness in helping the people in rank and file, and the service rendered to children is the same as service to God. If you give such work, anybody would accept it happily. Then, let me take leave of you. I do not know how to bow to you. Whenever you visit this village, you should come and visit me and the cow.” So saying, he walked two steps, turned around and said, “You are young yet have a good heart. The adage is one should live under the roof those who have good thoughts. I will stand by this patio up until you left. If you have any more good words, please let hear it.” He was ready to leave.

“Thatha!,” said son-in-law.

“What is it Babu! More good words occurred in your mind? Tell me, Babu.”

“Yes, I’ll tell you. How can be dearth of good words when I see you and your zeal? Listen, I am saying. I have plenty of wealth. My father-in-law signed of two acres of land per custom. Because he called it ‘gift’, I could not say no. I thought to whom should I gift it. Now I know. You are the great donor who had been giving madhuparkaalu to newly-wed couples. I will sign off those two acres of land to you. I call it madhuparkaalu trust. You keep weaving madhuparkaalu and giving to all the newly-weds in future, with the income from that land to pay for the madhuparkaalu.”

“That is a gift? Madhuparkaalu manyam? If I accept that, how can I call it service? No, I do not want it,” Puttanna shouted.

“Thatha, do not speak like that. However much you get from it, it would barely suffice for the yarn. Still there is plenty of work to put in to produce madhuparkaalu. Your pure soul is reflecting in your woof and warp. You are not only worshipping the idyllic weaving trade but also donating your labor. Yours is a great soul. It is only through people like you, our culture sustains its ancient form. Who else are patriots and thyagamurthulu[v] if not the supporters who are patronizing these professions; you are like beams of moonlight for the rural life. The village is like a tent of flowers and people like you are the flowers in it. Thatha! I will have the papers drawn this very day.”

Puttanna was chocked with pleasure and he stuttered. He had no words to say, went around in circles and finally said, “All right, babu. I will see you soon.” He ran to his home. The village accountant was also very surprised. He followed Puttanna.

Parvati, who was standing by the window, threw a marigold on to her husband. He turned around. “thyagamurthulu!” she said.

“Who’s taught me that?” he said. He poured some water from the silver jug into his palm and splashed it on her. Those water drops glimmered on her face like pearls of snow on lotus petals just blossomed.

[End]

For articles of Ravuru Satyanarayana Rao in Telugu, click here.

(I am grateful to Srimati T. Jnanaprasuna, author’s daughter, for sending me a copy of the Telugu original, madhuparkaalu. The story has been published originally in Krishnapatrika.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, December 2009.)
 



[i] A pair of specially made garments for bride and groom to wear on their wedding day, usually given by bride’s parents as a gift..

[ii] The fifth month in lunar calendar.

[iii] Liquid mix of ground cereal crops for animals.

[iv] A ball of yarn, usually held together with a gold cap. It is used to finish the braid.

[v] Persons who make sacrifice for common good.

The Sculptor by Bommireddipalli Surya Rao

Gangayya woke up early in the morning, took bath, put on ash patches on his body, the kumkum dot on his forehead, picked the machete and stepped outside into the street. He was facing the only problem—must earn the day’s wages, and fill his stomach. There was nothing more he would ask for. But then, that was the toughest problem. He set out to find a solution for that one problem.

He felt a little cold, since it was winter and he did not have enough clothes to cover his wrinkled body. Suddenly he recalled his past in one sweep.

He was sturdy in his younger days. No matter how cold it was, he would wake up at four in the morning and take a bath with cold water. He never felt this cold. After a clean bath, he would put on the ash stripes on his arms and chest, say his prayers, and walk into the street leisurely, twirling his moustache while his red silk upper garment wavering in the wind. If somebody stopped him on the street and asked him “to where”, he would say that he was going to work either in a factory or at a building site. He did not just say it; he worked and proved to the world that he meant what he said.

One time, he got into an argument showed it to his opponent by building the entire mansion of an attorney in the city single-handedly. He could finish alone the workload of four men. When he removed his shirt and sawed the porch plank as his body glistened in the sun with beads of sweat.. The sinews cracked like a bamboo stick. He made two or three rupees by the end of the day.

Stupid money. He made one rupee if held a machete and two if saw. When he planed, any type of wood shone like a mirror. “When I planed, you can see your shadow on the plank. That I would call workmanship. Workers nowadays can do nothing,” Gangayya told himself.

Why say all that? He was watching his own son work. He had only one son and that too after long time. Gangayya strived hard to make the boy the best carpenter among all the carpenters in the entire region. But his wife fussed over him and spoiled him. Idiot! The son turned wicked. Mother started harassing; claimed the boy would come to his senses after marriage. So, Gangayya performed the son’s wedding. Right away, the son moved out with his wife. The old woman [mother] lost her sight as if she could not watch her son wandering away.

Now, Gangayya’s body was wrinkled and all the strength in it gone. His sight was failing too. It was getting harder and harder to live. The old woman was lucky; went away quickly. The son, on whom he pinned his hopes, was no good anymore; nobody to count on. He was lonely. For him, it would be enough if he could earn a quarter or a half-rupee. And even to earn that became hard.

Gangayya set his machete on his shoulder, and arrived at the Rama mandir, which stands at the four-way junction of the town. He turned towards the lord in the temple and said his prayers.

Just then, he saw Venkadu. He was skinny and tall, like the vegetable, drumstick. One could easily recognize him as Venkadu, even from distance. Gangayya pretended not to see him and took a turn and walked hastily. But then, Venkadu caught up with him, and seized Gangayya’s arm from behind.

“What is the matter, Gangayya? You’re avoiding me. Don’t you think you should repay the money you’d borrowed from me? Planning to call it off or what?”

“I’ll settle it, you fool! You stop me in the middle of the street for that tiny bit of a loan? What kind of a gentleman are you?”

“You mean whom? You or me? You came to me, begged me for that tiny bit of loan. If it is such a small bit, why don’t you give it back to me? Tiny bit, he says! Ha, tiny bit. Did I get it freely? Come on, pay it up,” Venkadu raised rumpus. Poor Venkadu was not a bad person. Who would want to throw away money though! “This is going on long enough. Put away your games, they don’t fly with me,” he said and snatched the machete from Gangayya’s shoulder.

Nayanaa, nayanaa. God bless you, please, let it go. If you take my machete, how can make money? I promise, I will bring your money by dusk,” Gangayya begged him,

A few people gathered to watch the bickering. They all felt sorry for Gangayya.

“What does he have to give? Why hold him?” said one man to Venkadu.

“No? What do you mean he does not have? He has to sit in the club and drink tea,” said Venkadu.

Sometimes Gangadu would sit in the club on the street leading to the city and pay one anna for a cup of tea. He did that when he had no money for rice. But for many people in the town, sitting in the club and drinking tea was a pastime. Gangayya did not like telling them that he was drinking tea only because he had no rice to eat. He implored again that somehow he would manage to settle the debt by evening, and for now Venkadu should let go of his machete. The people who gathered around got them to an agreement. Gangayya would get back to Venkadu with money by evening, and Venkadu would let go Gangayya for now.

Gangayya started to walk with his machete on his shoulder again. He must earn one quarter of a rupee today and pay back the loan. How could he get a work for one quarter in this stupid town? There were only four Brahmin homes, two or three homes of kshatriya, and business communities. Rest of the families belonged to kapu, golla, weavers, goldsmith, washer, haircutter, mala, and madiga castes. What kind of work they would have to pay a carpenter and get the job done? They were struggling for food themselves. How could they help others? Let’s say he would go to a kshatriya home. What could he find there? Their houses were big, no question. But they lost all their assets and they were barely making it themselves. All those mansions were disappearing fast enough and they were living discreetly. The tiles were falling off from the roofs. And the walls were cracking, causing plants to grow from the cracks. Alas, that was their state of affairs. The only hope was in the Brahmin homes. There is proverb: Go to the Brahmin’s colony, if you have nothing else to do. They could give a chore anybody who appeared at their door. They would want you to work for them but squirm to pay though. If you beseech, they might give you food or gruel. But Gangayya needed some money to pay off the debt and some more to fill his stomach. Today he must earn two quarters, but how could he? Obviously, it would not possible in this town. He should go to the city, which was three miles from his town. Would it be possible for him to walk three miles, work there and bring back his earnings? It was already quite late in the day. He told himself to go to the Brahmin homes and try first and proceeded.

He could find no work in the first three homes. He went to the fourth house. He felt the winter sun prickly on his skin. Gangayya was exhausted. He squatted on a nearby patio, hoping to rest for a while. His stomach was empty since last night. He was hungry. Gangayya could not think straight. There was no thought, none whatsoever in his head. Whenever he thought, he thought only about himself. There was blistering fire in his stomach. He should put something in it. That was all he was thinking—the only thought on his mind. Nothing else mattered to him.

At a distance, a few people gathered under a neem tree. Nothing in particular. A sheep was slaughtered. That was it. They peeled off the skin, and hung from the tree within their reach, sliced the meat and doled out their portions. Each one of them took their share of raw meat in a banyan leaf and was on their way home. One of them took the head and another man its legs. The tanner came to take the skin and begged for a bit of the meat. Gangayya kept watching the scene keenly. It was quite sometime since he had a taste of meat. One must eat the sheep’s meat! What a taste! His mouth watered. The meat distribution came to an end after ten minutes. All of them were gone.

Gangayya got up, and slowly went into the house and stood in the hallway. Somebody was sleeping in the bedroom on the west side.

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” Gangayya called. Narasamma was in the kitchen. She did not come out but Kantamma, the daughter-in-law, came from the next room.

“Gangayya, you are here, for any reason in particular?” she asked, as she sat down on a cot in the sun and started unbraiding her hair.

“Nothing in particular, Amma. Wondering if you have any job for me?” Gangayya said, came into the room past the hallway, and sat down.

“Oh, no. We don’t have any work in our house. Did you not go to other places?”

“No, amma. I did not go anywhere. Nothing to do since yesterday. Tell me, amma, if there is anything to be done. I will do it.”

“No, nothing to do in our house.”

“What do you mean? Why say no work. Please, call the old lady. You may not know,” Gangayya said, scrutinizing the cots in the yard, just in case any of them needs fixing. He told himself, “There are four young boys in the house. Not one of them breaks a cot.”

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” he called again. Narasamma came from the west side room. She was her daughter-in-law sitting in the sun and said, “What is that, Amma, sitting in the yard? Winter sun is not good for the body. Go, sit in the porch.”

Kantamma stood up and went into the porch.

“Gangayya, what is new, you came here?” Narasamma asked.

“Nothing, Amma. Please, let me have a sip of coffee,” Gangayya said, leaning on the pillar. Hunger was chewing him up.

“That is good, naayanaa, coffee at this time of the day? We are done eating dinner,” Narasamma said.

“Are you crazy, Gangayya? How can we have coffee at this hour?” Kantamma said, staring at the hair that stuck to the comb. Then she said to her mother-in-law, “Look, Attayyaa, how I am losing hair.”

“Yes, you are not taking care of it. You are just three weeks pregnant. And you are already everything as you please. Don’t you have to eat proper food? Don’t you have to take care of your body? You know you are not a child,” Narasamma reprimanded her.

Kantamma did not understand the relevance between falling hair and eating right but kept quiet.

Gangayya was dozing. He thought, “These people are worried about losing hair while here I am losing my life. Stupid hair. Who cares if it is gone. Why not let it go, saves oil at least.

Narasamma looked at him. “Probably the fool is hungry,” she said to Kantamma.

Kantamma laughed.

“Gangayya, Gangayya,” Narasamma called.

“What? Coffee?” Narasayya woke with a jerk.

“No, no coffee. There is some leftover rice. Want to eat?”

“Ccha. What kind of question is that? Up until now, in all my life, I never had even sip water except in the house of my own caste. I am from a man of my caste. How could you suggest that I eat yesterday’s gruel in your house?”

“Enough of that confounding caste. Come over to the backyard. Sit by the well and eat. Nobody is going to know about it,” Narasamma said.

Kantamma laughed aloud. “Why wouldn’t eat, Atta. In this village, they all eat even meat, I heard.”

“Ccha, I swear on Veerabrahmam, Amma. Maybe some casteless idiots ate but you cannot say the same about everybody. Nice way to say that.”

“That’s fine. I will give you a job. Finish it, and eat and lie down on the porch,” Narasamma said.

“Good. Tell me, what is it?” he picked up the mettele.

“Oh, no. Nothing to do with mettele. Day after tomorrow we are going to have the naming ceremony for our baby.

“Do you want me to make a cradle? Any baby, who sleeps in the cradle I had made, will become a great man. All the children of the inspector in the city slept only in the cradle I had made for them. See how great they had become—one of them is a lawyer, another tahsildar, and yet another is in some very big job. That sweet mother says even now that ‘Ganga, it is all in your blessed wrist.’ When one works, the wages are not going to stay for ever but the name does.”

“We don’t need any such work at this point. There is a little job. Can you do it?”

“Tell me, amma. For an expert, no job is impossible.”

“Day after tomorrow, we are going to have barasala for our grandchild. Pick a few coconuts from the tree.”

“What? You want me to climb a coconut tree? I can’t. You will have to call the tree-climber.

“Nayaanaa, nayannaa, please, do me this favor. That idiot has gone to his mother-in-law’s home. He will not be back for another ten days, I was told.”

“Amma, you are asking me to climb a tree. That is not my vocation.”

“Babuu, babuu, I will pay you two annas. Monkeys are ravaging the fruits. And the naming ceremony is coming up in two days.”

Gangayya was tempted. A bowl of rice would fill the belly nicely. It would taste great with a pickle on the side. A wad of meal now would help him to go even without water for rest of the day. The old woman also promised two annas cash. That would get him a cup of tea tonight and the next day as well. Oh, no. What about Venkadu’s loan? Well, he would worry about it later, after receiving the two annas from the old woman.

“Okay, amma. Let me have a wad of rice.”

“Why don’t you first pick a bunch of coconuts? You can eat later. If you eat now, you will lie down and rest. After that, no way you would pick the fruits. After all, it is only a five-minute job,” Narasamma piqued him. She thought, “Yes, of course, I would have to be strict with him. Or else, the idiot would not go up the tree. On needs to be skillful in getting work done by idiots like him.”

“At least, let me have a little buttermilk,” Gangayya said.

Narasamma went in, returned with a can of buttermilk and poured into his glass. Gangayya finished the pot of buttermilk, burped loudly, went into the backyard and stood under the coconut tree. The tree was tall, and smooth like a pillar. “To hell with this tree. See how tall it is,” he told himself. Gangayya never accepted defeated when it came to job on hand. He had lot of trust in his own abilities.

He put on the rope on his feet and the waist, and started climbing the tree. He put the ax on his shoulder since he did not have the right kind of knife to cut the coconuts. He was not used to this kind of work. It was hard at first. But there is nothing impossible for those who are stubborn. He reached the top and cut a few fruits.

Narasamma, waiting on the ground, picked them and put them in a basket. And then, she shouted, “these are enough. Come down.”

Gangayya was exhausted. He was thirsty. He stopped for a split second and looked around. He could see the entire village. He could see the fields and silos at a distance. Farmers, sitting on the lakeshore, were eating gruel. Gangayya remembered the warm food and pickles. That was it. His eyes went dark. He could see nothing—the village, the fields, silos, nothing. He screamed, “Oh, ammaa!”

His head rested on the rock on the ground. His face was peaceful. He did not let go of the ax in his hand. Gangayya died. However, Gangayya was a creator. What is death after all for a creator?

[End]

(The Telugu original has been published in bharati monthly, April 1953.

Translated by Nidadasvolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, April 2009)

Nori Narasimha Sastry by Nidadavolu Malathi

Nori Narasimha Sastry (1900-1978) started writing poetry even as a child and produced voluminous amount of literature in almost all genres—poetry, plays, short stories, novels, and literary criticism for over six decades. He received the title kavi samrat [emporer of poets] in 1947. He was an active participant in several literary organizations.

Narasimha Sastry garu was born to the couple Hanumacchastri and Mahalakshmi on June 2, 1900. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1919 and B.L. degree in 1925. He was well-versed in Sanskrit, Telugu, English and Kannada languages. He received the deeksha (a religious ritual) from Sri Kalyanananda Bharatiswamy.

“He was a top-ranking literary persona and his work in all the genres of literature is exemplary,” says his son, Hanumacchastri (Preface to Nori Narasimha Sastri gari sahitya vyasalu [Literary essays by Nori Narasimha Sastry.])

Sastry was nineteen by the time he had published his first anthology of poems. Although he had written excellent poetry, his novels, especially historical novels such as Narayana Bhattu, Rudramadevi, Malla Reddy, earned him fame and fortune. His first novel was vaghira. He wrote three novels depicting the lives of poets, Srinatha  in Sarvabhaumudu, Srinatha and Pothana in kavidwayamu  and Dhurjati in Dhurjati ]. Additionally, he included our famous poets as important characters in other novels such as Rudramadevi, thereby demonstrating his respect for distinguished poets from the past.

Among other works, Devi bhagavatham (3 vols), ­plays, poetic plays, literary essays, reviews and prefaces stand out as evidence of his remarkable scholarship. One of his achievements was to coin a new phrase bhava natikalu [perception-based plays] and add a new angle to plays, wherein perceptions or ideas take precedence over action. These plays contain heavy Sanskrit phraseology. He also wrote short play in poetry and prose, karpoora dwipa yatra, a children’s novel, and Sabdavedhi.    

The fifth volume of his complete literary works is devoted to his literary essays and is available on the internet. This one volume contains over 940 pages and reflects his vast knowledge in several genre of not only literature but also in other subjects such as music, sculpture, art and religion. For instance, in his article on highly regarded lyricist “Subrahmanya kavi“, he discusses the qualities of a great lyricist in general, standards set by lyricists in the past centuries (Sarjnadeva, Kshetrayya,) and modern lyricists such as Balantrapu Rajanikantha Rao, Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma, and then presents his opinions on the superior talent of Subrahmanya kavi.

Similarly, sculpting does not mean carving a stone but envisioning the form latent in a stone, and removing the parts of stone that envelope the figure inside [parasthalaalu]. The process is very close to envisioning the Brahman, comments Sastri.

While discussing the novel Himabindu by Bapiraju, Sastri explains the depth with which Bapiraju enhanced the novel with his knowledge of music and sculpture. So also, when he writes about the beat in modern poetry, Sastry states how Veena Dhanamma, a famous musician, introduced new trends in raaga prastaaram [elaborating on a single note].

In short, in each article, he points out a new angle regarding a particular writer, poet or the times in which the work has been written.

The range of topics he has discussed in these articles is impressive. They include renowned classics in Sanskrit, Indian history, history of Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu intellectuals, literary criticism, prefaces, reviews, literary movements, modern literature, fiction, humor, and devotional literature.

In these articles, we see the special regard he has for our country and our culture. His comments particularly regarding our history are notable.

Narasimha Sastry states that we have come to accept the divisions of our history enunciated by Europeans and from their perspective, which distorted our perception of ourselves. He suggests strongly that we should study seriously our Maha Bharata and Ramayana from a historical perspective, and study the two perspectives—the Westerners’ and ours—in juxtaposition. Only then we will have a comprehensive well-balanced perspective of our history. He also explains at length the changes our country has undergone as a result of the onset of the Buddhists, the Jains, the Turkish, the Hun and the English (mana desa charitra [History of our country]). In another article, Andhra desa charitra [History of Andhra Pradesh], he points out how our history has been distorted because we have accepted English as model and rejected our own language, Telugu.

In charitraka navala, he elaborates on how literature flourished in the historical context. He contends that classics like Maha Bharata and Ramayana have been written to provoke people into thinking and action and reexamine their views of their dharma at a time when the morale of the country took a turn for the worse. He highlights the close, inexplicable rapport between history and historical novel. Authors may take real life incidents but it is not necessary to record them precisely the way it had happened. A poet has the right to make necessary changes to the story in order to produce a kavya. As an example, Sastry says he has compressed six years of Rudramadevi’s rule into six months in his novel by the same name. However, the author also has the responsibility to examine the history under reference carefully, understand it thoroughly and then only he can write a successful novel. He says he has researched his materials always before writing his novels.

The two articles swatantra bharatamulo charitra rachana [Writing history in the independent India] and Andhra bhashalo charitraka navala [Historical novel in Telugu] provide us with excellent background information. They would be particularly helpful for those interested in writing historical novels in my opinion.

The three articles are listed under “humor writing“—failing exam, celebrating the 60th birthday called shashtipurti utsavam, and mushti kavitvam [poetry besought]. The first one, “failing exams” [pareeksha tappadam] is somewhat flat. In the second article, the 60th birthday celebration, Sastry explains how the celebration originated. Actually, it is not a celebration, Sastry comments. According to the legend, death appears in the form a human, Ugraratha and destroys the person his family on that specific day. And the person in order to avoid such calamity performs a ritual pacifying Ugraratha. In mushti kavitvam¸is a satire poking fun at the poets, who, motivated by politicians, party bosses and by their own greed for fame and fortune, are writing second rate poetry.

Narasimha Sastry strongly believes that poets should have the same qualities as rishis—being focused on dharma, inquiry of truth, commitment, and temperance. Even when they take lust, anger and spite as their subjects, they still should write with self-control, in the footsteps of the rishis in the past. The poets of the past, even when they depended on the kings for their livelihood, they still wrote freely unfettered by their obligations to the royalty. In modern times, the critics should take the responsibility of preventing writers from falling prey to these politically motivated “-isms”   

The second book I have read by Narasimha Sastry is the historical novel, Rudramadevi, depicting the political turmoil of the times under Rudramadevi and her successful victory over rebellious yadava, chola and chalukya kings in the south and Maharashtra kings in mid thirteenth century. Her husband Veerabhadrudu, a Chalukya king, becomes her enemy because Rudramadevi’s father refused to annoint his son by another queen as emporer and instead annoints Rudramadevi as empress. Veerabhadrudu provokes other minor kings to attack Kakateeya kingdom. Rudramadevi found herself in a conflict between her duty to the empire and personal interests, which was to save her marriage. She decided to put her duty to the kingdom ahead of her personal choices. Her husband prods naïve Jains to rebel. Rudramadevi pardons the Jains and punishes Veerabhadrudu for his transgressions, regardless his status as her husband.

Into this political story, the lifestyles of all strata of society are woven skillfully, I might add. Tikkana Somayaji’s character as a detached poet with a flair for politics has been depicted beautifully. Similarly, Koppera jingadu (also known as Rajasimhudu), a Kadava (Kerala) king, crosses the Godavari river and while his ships were attacking Andhra warriors, sets up his tent on the shores and arranges for a performance of uurubhangam [Breaking Duryodhana’s thighs in the Maha Bharata war] attesting to his superior taste in literature.

The author succeeded in giving us a piece of literature with a right mix of history and fiction. The characters in this story come alive and it includes enormous amount of the lifestyle of the queen’s times. Rudramadevi is one of our best novels of all times in modern Telugu literature.

Narasimha Sastry’s views on history and historical novel are recounted in the next article. Click here.

End

This article has been published originally on thulika.net, June 2011.