Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Sword of Tears


Sannapareddy Venkataramireddy
Where the dirt road joined the tarred one, a person was standing, facing the East He let his looks again and again race over the black tar road extending from the south. The water from the day before yesterday’s rains collected as red muddy water in the roadside puddles. Showers were likely that day too. The sky had not yet cleared the clouds that gathered some time in the night. The sun had still not shown his face to the earth.
He twirled his curled up moustache with his right hand. Without putting down his bag on the ground, he hitched up his slipping panca and tied it firmly. He stretched out his hand to the bus arriving with loud noise. Spattering the water in the puddles the bus came to a side of the road and halted.
The moment the door was opened he got in quickly. The bus started.
There were not more than fifteen passengers inside, each occupying a seat comfortably.
His looks searched for a comfortable place to sit on.
He was drawn to the fourth one behind the conductor.
Not heeding the conductor’s pleas to pay for the ticket, he walked towards it curling up his moustache.
Seated beside the window a girl was enthusiastically watching the world out side. She might be five or six. Fair and attractive. As her disheveled curly hair swayed in the wind, she looked like a red hibiscus flower.
She turned and looked at him feeling someone sitting beside her.
Dark curled up moustache, glittering eyes with red streaks, dense greasy hair touched with caster oil, with a handbag caught between his legs- he appeared different. Watching him with wide-eyed innocence, she moved towards the window.
Holding his bag carefully between his legs, he handed the fare to the conductor who had come to issue him a ticket. Handing him the punched ticket, the conductor cast a smile at the baby and left.
He took a sidelong glance at her.
In the cool fresh morning air the bus was speeding.
After a while the girl again looked outside through the window. He sank back into the seat watching in the driver’s side view mirrors the tar road passing. It was not known whether the landscape caught his attention. But some thoughts swarmed his mind.
Clapping and shouting at some scene outside she yelled joyfully.
She pushed him involuntarily with her elbows.
It interrupted his thoughts. Turning his head he looked sharply at her. Engrossed in her own world she did not notice him. As long as the outside world descended through the window and dangled before her eyes, he could not escape her nudges. Moving slowly and drawing her head back he closed the glass shutters of the window and adjusted himself impatiently.
The girl was surprised.
She stared at him and crouched in her seat.
The bus halted at some road crossing.
Noise broke out at the entrance.
The women rushed into the bus hurriedly even before an old man, who had to alight there, could get down. They laid a pregnant woman experiencing labour pains on a long seat.
Except the girl and he, everyone in the bus cast sympathetic looks at her. The bus started. With the bumps of the bus her labour pains increased.
The womenfolk were restless.
The old man in the front seat started a spiritual discourse in a loud voice.
‘Please drive fast.’ an old woman was urging the driver.
Unable to bear the pains the pregnant woman screamed. Spreading amidst the womenfolk the shriek filled the whole bus.
Startled the girl stood up and tried to take a peek from above the seat. Unable to do so, she was about to come out. She did not know how to cross his legs and stared at him. Lifting his head up he also looked angrily at her. Unable to bear the sharpness of his looks that were more frightening than his curled up moustache, she lowered her eyes. Some weapon with its handle visible, concealed carefully in the bag clasped between his legs, attracted her attention.
‘Sit down Why did you get up?’ he sounded harsh.
The roughness in his voice made her collapse in her seat. But she could not resist looking deep into his eyes for a short while.
He was impatient with her.
He preferred the seat next to her. If it was beside elders he should be careful about his belongings and the things they would reveal about him.
He thought there would be no problem -but he could not bear her interruption so often.
Planning a few strategies to accomplish the task to be done, he slid into thoughts.
After a while hearing some sound from the girl, he stopped thinking and turned to her side.
Sobbing with gasps the girl prattled in the middle, ‘amma...amma!’
Looking a bit strangely at her he frowned.
‘ Do you like to move to the next seat?’ he asked.
She did not reply.
‘ Are there any of your people in the bus?’
She looked at him once and shook her head.
He was surprised. He did not understand the reason for her crying.
Perhaps his closing the window shutters might be the cause.
Stretching his hand he opened the window and patted her on her back saying, ‘Don’t cry.’
He felt it strange. Usually children cried when they were frightened or for a thing that they needed or if they were not pampered. But what was this? Weeping for the wind that blew from outside and for the trees and the like.
Traveling along with thoughts about the girl for a distance, he diverted his attention to the strategies to be adopted to accomplish the task he was about to do.
The task was a petty one.
Even the contract amount he had fixed was not all that big.
It was promised that a vehicle would be arranged to cross the town limits immediately after finishing the task. It was enough at least if a motorcycle was arranged.
For a long time he was absorbed in thoughts.
The bus stopped at every village.
The moans of the pregnant woman inside the bus gradually turned into cries.
The old man lecturing philosophy had turned to singing brmham tatwas.
All these did not disturb him. He closed his eyes and sank back in his seat brooding. Feeling something against his thigh he stopped his thoughts for a minute. After a while the same contact -this time slightly harder…then again…
He opened his eyes and observed.
Leaning against the seat the girl was waving her legs with her half closed eyes and singing to herself.
At once he became irritated.
He did not like such a little girl annoy him again and again. Adjusting his moustache once he shook her.
She opened her eyes.
She realized why he had woken her up.
Adjusting herself she looked into his eyes.
Taking this opportunity he gnashed his teeth and looked angrily at her, as if he was about to burn her with his looks.
Any one would be frightened by his looks leave alone that little girl. She should withdraw her looks adjusting herself in a corner. If she were to be a meek girl, she should have peed with fear.
She did not do any such acts.
She looked intensely at his moustache.
For being incapable of making her at least lower her looks, his determination grew further. Sharpening his looks deeper, he spat fire at her with a glower.
Looking at his moustache, ‘There is a thread in your moustache.’ she said lightly pointing her finger.
He heaved a long sigh and forgot about his moustaches and sharp looks. His efforts became futile like water escaping from a breached tank. A cool breeze seized and choked him.
He withdrew his looks. His hand involuntarily stroked his moustache.
A small piece of thread of his shirt was caught up in his moustaches.
He became embarrassed.
For a few seconds a smile appeared in a flash on his face.
He keenly looked at the girl.
Though she appeared weak with skinny face and parched lips, there was a gleam in her eyes.
‘A clever girl,’ he thought.
‘Which town are you going to?’ he asked.
Porumamilla,’ she replied.
Porumamilla?’ he looked surprisingly, ‘You have to cross Midukur too, do you know?’
She nodded her head.
‘Do you have any relations there?’
She did not reply. She thrust her looks outside.
She was unable to be free with him. Perhaps it was a fitting rejoinder to the behaviour he had exhibited till then.
Somehow the girl appeared charming / pleasant/ good looking.
‘Is it to Porumamilla or any other near by village?’ he asked pleasingly.
Looking once into his face she replied,’ It will be known only after going to Porumamilla…where to go and all ‘
‘What?’ he did not make out anything. He did not understand any thing.
‘Whether she is in Porumamilla or has gone to any neighboring village…I have to search for her.’ Gloom descended on her face.
‘Who?’
‘ My mother.’
‘Why?’
‘My mother is not balanced.’
He could not bear it.
‘ You are coming alone?’
‘Yes,’ she said with blinking her eyes.
His harshness towards her had dissolved.
‘ Which is your village?’ he asked her softly.
Kondamotupalli.’ She replied.
After hearing the name of the village no more questions came out from his mouth.
The thoughts swarmed his mind. He knew the village. Once he had been there to carry out a job.
There were nearly hundred houses…only two or three were buildings and all the others were huts. He remembered that one or two had even bore pumps. Through out the village it was rain fed agriculture . If it rained they had crops or else drought.
He had spent a few days in that village-the pond, the choultry, the cock fighting…
Indifferent to his thoughts the bus had crossed two more stages.
More people got into the bus overcrowding it.
The speeding bus with one jerk screeched to a halt. Many careless passengers got their foreheads knocked on the bars of the front seats.
The pregnant woman who was lying on the seat was about to slip down but the alert womenfolk rescued her. With that jerk the pains increased and she started crying, ‘Oh my god.’
He deftly held the baby from falling and hurriedly tried to set right the bag that fell from him.
The baby observed it.
Then the cries of pregnant woman reached a climax.
She raised to see but withdrew after looking at him.
He sensed her intention.
‘Do you want to go and see?’ he asked.
She nodded her head. To cross over, she stepped on his bag, lost control while taking back her footstep and fell on him. Her hands on his waist brushed against something hard. For support she grasped the one that had fallen from his waist. When she knew what it was she shuddered and loosened her fist.
She sank back in her seat and stopped moving further.
For a few seconds the feeling, that the secrete had been exposed, appeared on his face.
He consoled himself after a while that it was only a little girl who had known his secret. But he felt embarrassed by her probing looks. She went on piercing him with suspicious looks. For no reason she stared at him.
‘You stab people?’ clearing her throat she asked naively after some time.
‘I?’ he fumbled.
‘You kill people?’ she looked doubtfully.
‘No…I don’t’
‘Then what do you have a dagger for? The hunting sickle in the bag?’
‘Those…by the way papa! How do you know that they are used for stabbing?’ he wondered.
‘I know.’
‘How did you know?’
‘I have seen.’
‘Seen stabbing someone?’
‘Yes.’
‘Stabbing?’
‘Yes. Even killing … ’
He was astonished. His curiosity increased.
‘When?’
‘On the day of main festival.’
‘Where?’ He was unable to contain his anxiety.
‘In our village…beside the Reddy’s choultry …in the tamarind groove…at the cockfighting’
‘Who was it? Who did they kill?’
‘My father.’
He felt as if his breathe stopped and remained in his throat.
Clearing his throat he asked, ‘ was it during the last year’s main festival, papa?’
‘Yes.’
He felt some dark cloud pass over his mind. Many thoughts from different quarters swarmed his mind like flies.
‘My mother has become mad and she is roaming the villages. Someone said that she was in Porumamilla. So I am going there now, ’ she said looking outside through the window.
‘Do you have any relations in Porumamilla?’
‘No, I have none there.’
‘Then how do you manage food?’ his voice became soft.
Silence was her reply. After sometime she was seen wiping tears with her hands.
‘Are you the only one to your parents, papa?’
‘I have an elder brother.’
‘What does he do? Is he studying?’
‘He left in the tenth class. He was moving around with some people to take revenge against my father’s killer.’
He lost energy to talk to her further.
Closing his eyes he sank in his seat.
He never faced such a situation before.
In his view it was a minor task.
He was an ordinary farmer. But influenced by his people he got involved in politics and became a culprit in president’s view.
For a small amount…mere five thousands…the president gave him the contract.
When he was starving for money…it was an opportunity.
For meager five thousands… he never imagined that five thousands would have such a history. It had killed a person and turned his wife insane, ruined his son’s future, made his daughter roam around like a dry leaf in the whirl wind. The cause of all these was a meagre five thousands. He never understood that the small amount had such a power.
He never recalled and scrutinized his deeds already done and never attempted to know about them even accidentally. But now this problem had sprung up.
Thoughts like a swollen sea surged in his mind.
The baby slipped into sleep.
The bus was racing towards the destination.
The old man in the front seat had not finished singing bramham tatwas.
A drunkard entered in to a quarrel with the conductor and twaddled, ‘I wont pay for the ticket because you’ve asked for it. Hadn’t you insisted on buying it I would have thrown the amount at your face. Do you think that I am such a waste fellow unable to pay for the ticket? You look at me…my dress…my moustache…and you ask me to pay for the ticket?’
The hubbub in the bus did not enter his mind and the cries of the pregnant woman either.
The thoughts of the baby perturbed him.
He chopped off many heads. But none of those haunted him except this one.
Intoxicating himself with arrack and politics this had become his life sustaining profession. They had a glorious life when Narasimhareddy was the Minister. They never missed their targets. If they had aimed at any head, it should roll off. After utilizing his services extensively for advancing his political career, Narasimhareddy had discarded him now. Habituated profession, impatient to do physical labour …his life dragged on…amidst arrack and blood.
With his deft hands he might have slaughtered many- who were not related to him in anyway.
He never knew about them and their family before and also after the completion of the task. He did not heed anyone who had intentionally tried to inform him about them. Such was the arduous training Narasimhareddy had given him while assigning him a task that had become his means of life in the drought.
And now this baby had appeared like a riddle and made him aware of the things that he would never pay attention to.
To get over from this shock he had to be intoxicated.
To finish off his task deal he should booze arrack.
He became confused. He was disturbed. The mind that had been falling apart into pieces would not join without the drop of liquor. It would not wait till the destination. He had to get down to drink. Feeling someone pat on his lap he attempted to turn that side and open his eyes but avoided it. ‘ Perhaps the baby might have touched him while humming a tune.'
After a while the same touch. And a call followed.
He opened his eyes and looked at her.
‘Where do you have to go?’ she asked.
Giddalur,’ he replied.
‘Is it beyond Porumamilla?’
‘Yes…’
A spark appeared in her eyes.
‘I don’t know anyone in Porumamilla. Will you get down with me and take me to my mother,’ she pleaded.
Again he sank back into his seat.
After an hour he would reach Giddalur and then he would need not more than one hour to finish off his task.
‘I ate stale rice yesterday. While going away in a vehicle, my brother gave me ten rupees for my food. Keeping it with me I got into the bus this morning, to see my mother,’ her voice was pathetic.
His heart ached.
Then noise erupted at once from the womenfolk. The saris were tied around as a screen covering the pregnant woman.
After a few minutes the cries of an newborn baby filled the whole bus. The bus reached Porumamilla.
He looked at the girl.
The tears from her eyes traced the wet path on her cheeks.
‘If I meet my brother, he would give me money for food. I’ll give it to you for fares. Come with me anna! Show my mother.’ Getting up she held his finger.
He involuntarily wiped off her tears with his upper cloth. Slowly he moved with her. While getting down he just looked at/ peeped into the seat of pregnant woman.
A red/ pink, charming/ delightful infant.
After getting down from the bus he looked around to buy something for her to eat.
A pushing cart…in front of him…and heaps of plantains on it.
Soon after seeing it an explosion occurred in his mind. The contract he entered into seemed to give him a hard slap on his cheek. The farmer coming on a cart load of plantains appeared before his eyes. His plan to waylay him on the outskirts of the town, drag him down, kill him with one stroke and escape in a vehicle- a truck or a motorcycle arranged before- conjured up before him. Many scenes appeared in his mind one after another- the liquor he boozed for one week, food he had eaten, the school fees he paid for his children, his wife’s dresses-all that he got from the advance he had received.
Interrupting the girl’s attempt to hold his little finger he strode away straight into the liquor shop next to the bus stand.
He was confused. It was strange even for him to neglect his duty. Violating the terms of contract or postponing the task was never done in his life.
Let his prey might be poor or it might be a minor scuffle at the land boundaries that endangered his life, he was not concerned with those facts. He had to kill him because he had been hired to do it. The person who hired him was not his relation. He would not hesitate if some one else came the next day and asked to kill the person who had hired him.
‘ One ready to spend thousands for the boundary and another prepared to lose his life for the same boundary that wont cost more than a few hundreds.’
He took the rum bottle.
While pouring it into a glass after opening it, the baby came and stood before him. Touching him with her hand, ’anna…anna,’ she said anxiously.
Tears filled her eyes.
He looked questioningly at her.
‘ Anna…the police are taking away my brother,’ she said crying.
He stood still with the bent bottle in his hands.
Anna…show me my mother,’ she said gasping.
Closing the bottle with the lid and dropping it into his bag he walked out of the shop.
The bus in which they traveled had not left the stand still.
It might move in a few minutes. It seemed the conductor and the driver who had gone to have refreshments had not returned.
‘ My brother has hurled bombs at someone…they say’
He did not reply.
‘Even my brother might have drunk arrack?’ Lifting her head she asked looking at him.
He looked questioningly into her eyes.
‘To hurl bombs or to stab people, one has to drink arrack, it is said!’
He shuddered.
‘Who told you?’
‘My father used to tell me.’
‘No. Its not true…will all those who drink stab people?’
‘But all those who stab people will drink, they say.’
He fumbled for an answer. ‘Taking a few coins from his pocket and stretching them to her he said, ‘ take these…buy some fruits and eat.’
‘I don’t want anything. I have to see my mother. She would bring me food.’
‘All right. Lets look for her. First you eat some fruits.’
She looked hopefully into his eyes and asked, ‘Won’t you go?’
‘Where to?’
‘I don’t know where you go…to kill someone.’
He looked at her and felt embarrassed, as this orphan girl had become a life size question mark and stood before him. Her brother too joined his path quite unknowingly.
The figure of the farmer he was going to kill appeared before his eyes- a family man with children. ‘ Even the fate of his children would be similar’
‘If it were his children?’
He did not feel like going to the plantain’s cart.
Straight away he walked to the apples, and bought four and also two tender coconuts.
When the shopkeeper was about to chop them he dissuaded him and dropped the coconuts into his bag.
Raising dust all around the bus in which they had come had crossed them leaving the bus stand. He sighed deeply once. Taking her hand into his, he took her into the school ground nearby. They sat in a corner.
With his dagger he sliced the apples and handed them to her. With the hunting sickle he had hid in his bag he broke open the shell of a coconut and offered it to her.
‘Fine. Anna…are they useful for this too!’ the baby wondered with joy.
He remained looking at her in ecstasy.
***
Translated from Telugu by Dr.T.Sreenivasa Reddy

The Vanished Violin


-Chaso

Rajyam completely lost consciousness and was completely oblivious of everything else. Venkatappayya felt his life flying away.

He looked keenly into his wife’s face.

Rajyam’s lips were trembling .She seemed to mumble something though the words were not audible.

‘Ose Rajyam!’ he called her anxiously.

She didn’t reply. She was lost to this world. She was roaming in the streets of the sky in the company of the Thodi raga.

The children were making noise in the veranda.

‘You little rascals! Stop that noise, will you?’ he rebuked them. He would have hit them had they been in his reach.

‘Abba! I was startled!’ Rajyam recovered herself and looking at her husband with a frown asked, ‘Why are you bursting out against them like a thunderbolt?’

‘Tell me how you feel now?’ he asked her anxiously.

‘Why did you rebuke them?’

‘Yes, I did. First, tell me how you feel.’

‘It’s all right. Why are you worried?’

‘Then did you respond when I called you?’

‘Did you call me?’

‘ Didn’t I?’

‘Is that so!’ Rajyam laughed. It was horrible to see her smiling face: her owl like eyes bulging out, the front teeth protruding forward made her face awesome.

‘I forgot myself,’ Rajyam laughed again.

‘Was that all,’ Venkatappayya said, relieved a bit.

Having had an attack of typhoid, Rajyam was on the edge of death but survived. Only for the past week she had been on a regimen of diet. Venkatappayya’s fear didn’t disappear. The cursed typhoid didn’t subside even after three weeks. It relapsed as if showing its might and caused him great distress for three more weeks. Though she was on a solid diet and had been brought home from hospital, Venkatappayya’s apprehension that she might die any moment remained at the back of his mind.

‘I am at ease now, able to digest what I eat and sleep well,’ Rajyam said, ‘Is it possible for me to become normal all of a sudden after such severe illness even if I wish to?’

It was a miracle that Rajyam could survive the disease. Completely emaciated she appeared skin and bones.

‘My heart lost a beat when I saw you abstracted,’ he said.

When he saw his sleeping wife, the doubt whether she was alive or not pestered him everyday but when her belly rose and fell, he was sure that she was alive and comforted himself---this had become usual with him.

‘I was lost in some thought. That’s all,’ Rajyam said, ‘I have no complaint of any sort. Since we have moved to this house, I feel happy.’

‘I too feel so, after moving to this house,’ he said, ‘I sense a new joy. Only the rent is a bit high.’

‘The rent causes worry,’ said Rajyam.

‘When our lives had not been safe, do we worry about rent?’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about anything.’

They used to live in an antiquated dungeon of a house in a narrow street, as the rent was low. As long as they lived there, all members in the family suffered from illness. Ultimately Rajyam’s life was in danger. He had no one to support. He suffered a lot when his wife was hospitalised. She survived, as her husband and children were lucky. Now they rented this house of two rooms and a veranda, which had been built recently. All the houses had spacious backyards and every one of them was a well-maintained garden.

‘Worthless money! Somehow we would manage .You are alive, that’s enough,’ he said.

‘No. That’s not the point,’ she said.’ You haven’t told me till now where you have raised a loan and how much you have spent for my disease. We have to think about that too.’

‘I told you not to raise that topic. First look after your health. Don’t be miserly. Drink as much ovaltine as you require. Eat all the fruits that are brought and don’t give any even to the children.’

‘That’s what I’m doing, am I not? Eating leisurely what you cook for me… Anyhow a loan is a loan, is it different for us in any way?’

‘ Didn’t I tell you not to refer to that? ’ He said. When it was raised he became nervous. In addition to his salary of two months, the expenditure exceeded two hundreds. Though the doctor treated like the celestial physician without charging a pie, all was spent on medicines. Though she was admitted in a General Hospital, the expenditure was burdensome for him.

‘All right, I won’t. Let’s settle everything leisurely. Managing everything is in our hands.’

‘Yes. You can do that way,’ Venkatappayya said and went in to the backyard. He didn’t like to continue the conversation. He washed himself, combed, put on his dress and started to go out into the street.

Rajyam was again transported to another world. Shadows were creeping into the room. The rays of the evening were falling on her face through the window and bathing her in golden hue.

Venkatappayya stood looking fixedly at her face. He was not afraid any more. He thought she might be enthralled, recollecting some memorable event of her childhood. A splendid joy seemed to dance on her face.

Venkatappayya hadn’t seen Rajyam so happy for the past few years. The first year when she came to live with him, she used to smile all day, bouncing with joy. Within a year, entrusting a child to her breast, life bade her cross the ocean of family life and reach the other shore. It was six years since she came to live with him, thus becoming the mother of three children and swimming the sea of domestic life.

Suddenly Rajyam opened her mouth and shook her head dropping it to a side. On seeing her, Venkatappayya burst into laughter. That laugh didn’t leave him for long like whooping cough. With that Rajyam came down to the earth from the fancy world of the celestial paths.

‘Why the mocking burst of laughter?’ she questioned her husband.

‘Come on. Let’s see again how you stretch your mouth open, bend the neck and shake your head,’ he said.

‘O you mean that,’ she said. ‘The girl from the house opposite is singing. Listen.’ He realized that the music was from the opposite house only after Rajyam drew his attention to it. Till then though there was some ringing in his ears, there was no need for him to know what it was.

‘I can hear music! That’s it,’ he said.’ Let me recollect: you were also a bit of a violinist in your childhood, weren’t you?’

The breeze blew into the room, heavily, tremulous with the singing of Kamavardini raga and intoxicated with the fragrance of the wood apple flowers.

‘Here you boys!’ he said. ‘A concert is going on here. Come and listen.’

Both his sons also went into the street, stood astonished listening to the song.

‘I thought it would be comfortable in this house. But it seems I can’t escape this migraine,’ he said.

‘Get yourself dry ginger,’ said Rajyam.

It pricked him. His body emitted fumes as if the ginger paste was applied to it.

‘ When it is getting dark, why do you go out into the street?’ she asked.’ Won’t you eat food early?’

‘ It gets late as I go on thinking,’ he said,’ I have to go now and do a good deed for redeeming my sin.’

‘Are you committing sins?’

‘We can’t get along without committing sins.’

Both the children were listening to the music attentively---perhaps it was melodious for them. The children’s hearts would be pure. Naturally music enthrals them. If they had a little knowledge of raga and tala in their childhood, music would be a cause for happiness throughout their lives.

‘ You are all the children of your mother. You inherited this sense of music from her, it seems,’ Venkatappayya walked into the street.

Rajyam got up slowly and switched on the tube light between the rafters. It glowed gradually and spread pearl-like light in the room. These electric lights wouldn’t be so charming in the old houses as in the houses built with cement. Like a bulb, covered with the threads of cobwebs under the eaves, which had glowed for a couple of days and blown, Rajyam’s music also ended. Her violin was thrown aside. The

bow was broken and it reached the dustbin. Though music left her life, the song of the girl from the opposite house gave her indefinable comfort and happiness.

Nothing untoward happened in Rajyam’s life. Everything went on properly.

Six years ago, a marriage party came to see Rajyam along with Venkatappayya. All of them asked her to sing a song. The music her father made her learn unnecessarily for the past four years had to be performed at this auspicious time.

She started singing shyly a keerthana in Thodi. As she began, a wrong note crept in, spoiling the rhythm. Her whole body shivered and the song ended in confusion. She broke into tears when the song was over.

But the elders who had come to settle the match appreciated her song. Those innocent brides didn’t know that these Telugu elders were ignorant of the difference between sruthi and apasruthi and the knowledge of raga and tala.

‘Your son-in-law need not do any job,’ said an elderly gentleman in the marriage party. Rajyam laughed within herself at their ignorance.

Venkatappayya heartily accepted to marry Rajyam. He was no fool. When they were engaged, even Rajyam thought she was fortunate. At the time of their marriage, Venkatappayya was one of the graduates from Andhra University and one of the Lower Division Clerks (LDC) employed by the State Government on a salary of

Rs 72/-

In the early days of their marriage, the neighbours thought Rajyam would sing well. In fact, she was forced to sing when she attended any perantam. Her husband never asked her to sing and she never sang.

When she was about to sing full throated, overcoming her shyness, she became pregnant, as if it were an emergency, and had to go to her parent’s. With that her womanliness acquired meaning.

The children started making noise in the veranda.

‘Why do you fight with each other? Come to me,’ she said.

Her sons, a five-year-old boy and a four-year-one, who were wrestling, came to their mother.

‘Is your brother sleeping?’ she asked.

‘Yes. He is snoring,’ said the elder boy.

‘If you make noise, won’t he wake up?’ she asked.

The elder boy gave a sly smile.

There was a repentant expression on their faces.

‘The girl in the opposite house is singing melodiously,’ she said. ‘Sit and listen to her.’

They sat quietly. Pacifying children not do mischief, making them heed to her convincing words, blowing the hearth with out getting smoke on to her face---all these Rajyam had learnt with ease.

The girl in the opposite house started singing out the notes. The musical notes flowed like streams, and roared like cataracts now and then. Raising her voice to a crescendo and keeping it at gandhara, she sang freely.

Rajyam got the strength of an elephant. Music was necessary in our day to day life for happiness and health. Even if one couldn’t sing it was enough to understand good music. That would do good.

Meanwhile like a small piece of stick in a sweet drink, a boy, probably her brother arrived.

‘ gi ma pa da ni oo za ga…’

sa ri sa ni pa da ni oo za ga …’ he sang at the top of his voice in wrong notes. The girl stopped her song and playing tambura.

‘You fool! You don’t practice to sing but you are ready to do mischief,’ she said.

‘Didn’t I give you the correct note?’ the boy asked.

‘Let father come. I’ll report this to him,’ said the girl.

Again the boy sang in the correct scale but in wrong sruthi.

If music were in the environment even the rafters would sing. There was nothing extraordinary in it.

‘Let father come you fool!’ the girl stopped her music. Rajyam was filled with wrath. That girl was singing the kritis in ragas that were familiar to her.

‘At least for some time I felt happy,’ Rajyam said.’ Now it is ended.’

‘Why doesn’t she continue?’ her elder son asked.

‘A mischievous boy like you came and interrupted. She became angry and stopped singing.’

‘How is she able to sing Amma?’

‘She has leant singing,’

‘Can you sing?’

‘Yes. I can. Shall I teach you?’

‘No, Men won’t sing.’

‘Yes. Men also sing. Shall I teach you?’

‘Alright. Teach me now.’

‘Not now. I’ll teach you later,’ saying so Rajyam lay in the middle of the room stretching her legs.

Ore peddodu! Massage my legs babu.’ She said.

The elder boy sat boxing her legs slowly.

Amma! I’ll hit the hands,’ the second boy sat boxing hands.

Humming kalyani kriti to her self she lay down forgetting everything. The musical notes sung in the middle of the song became tangled like tousled hair.

‘You are not singing like that girl,’ said the elder boy.

‘I have forgotten everything.’ she said.

The lid of the vessel kept in the niche in the backyard fell making an awkward sound echoing in the four corners of the room.

‘Must be a dog. Chase it,’ Rajyam said.’ Might have spoiled the rice in the niche.’

Her sons rushed in.

‘It’s not a dog …Amma,’ the elder boy said. ‘A cat has thrown the lid over the rice bowl.’

‘It’s alright. We don’t need to cook again,’ Rajyam said,’ the food touched by the dog might also be eaten these days. Won’t you bolt the doors?’

‘You called us to listen to the music,’ the elder boy answered.

‘Yes, I did but you would have come after closing the doors. Do you understand?’ she said slowly.

Venkatappyya came back.

‘Moonlight in the backyard and fragrance of wood apple flowers are delightful,’ said Venkatappyya.

‘Why are you back so early?’ Rajyam asked him.

‘I have finished my work.’

‘Has your sin redeemed?’

‘To some extent.’

‘It seems you have gone some where these days.’

Rama… Rama…’

‘Your talk seems to suggest that.’

Cha...’

‘I can’t utter those words.’

Venkatappyya hid some thing in his upper cloth that he kept under his arms-a round thing covered with paper.

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ll open and show it to you.’

Inside it there was a sari with an ornamental border of handbreadth wide and a piece of cloth for blouse. Every woman from a queen to a commoner would appreciate it.

‘Did you buy it?’

‘Yes. I did before I would spend all the money.’

‘Where did you get the money from?’

‘If I tell you, you won’t forgive me.’

‘What have you done?’

‘Put your hand in mine and promise me,’ he said and extended his trembling hand. Rajyam put her hand in his.

‘Why do you shiver so? What did you do? You haven’t stolen any thing?’

‘It’s worse than that. You had a relapse of typhoid. All my resources were dried up. A friend of mine came to our house and gave this advice the moment he saw it. I was dare enough to give it to him.’

‘You haven’t known it still. He took it with him and sold it for

Rs 250/- I never dreamt that it would fetch that much amount, I thought it was old. Only the old are valuable, it seems.’

Rajyam understood and looked at the four corners of the room.

‘You don’t need to look for it.’

‘Has it gone?’ She sighed deeply.

‘I know that it would be difficult for you. What I did was wrong,’ he looked like an offender. Sensing that her husband was hurt she suppressed her sorrow instantaneously.

‘You haven’t done any thing wrong. Any householder would do the same. You have done what has to be done. You haven’t spent it for your self?’

‘I dared as we have only male children.’

‘It’s alright. My voice has been stifled for a long time, how would the violin save me? Goddess Saraswathi blessed me only to that extent and now she has departed. While parting the mother has shown her generosity, she blessed me with life and gifted me a sari and a piece of cloth for blouse.’

Tears filled her eyes.

She didn’t even open the sari to look at.

‘Thinking that it would last for a long time, I bought it,’ Venkatappyya said and took the sari out, partly unfolded and covered it on Rajyam’s shoulders.

‘Let it remain as a memento,’ said Rajyam.

----------------------------------

Translated from Telugu by T. Sreenivasa Reddy

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lady Karunakaram

Lady Karunakaram
-Chaso
Karunakaram went to his mother-in-law’s town for the festival. Keeping his suitcase on the head of a coolie, he entered the street where his mother-in-law lived. The mischievous teenagers walking before him, started speaking disparagingly looking at his mother-in-law’s house.
“Look! This landlord is getting the pials plastered with cement!”
“What does he lack. He has a daughter like an ace of trump card.
By the time she goes to live with her husband, he would construct the walls in gold.”
“These days one who has four daughters is fortunate.”
“Catering to the people…”
Karunakaram’s face flushed with anger. Probably they started this foul language against his father-in-law and his wife after seeing him. There was no point arguing with them. He doubted whether there was a grain of truth in what they had said.
The coolie was about to put down the suitcase on the pial.
“No. Don’t put it there. The cement hasn’t yet dried up,” looking through the window, his mother-in-law opened the door and said.
“ Come dear. We heard a crow crowing this day and we thought you’d come. Sit in the veranda. Its time your father-in-law arrived.”
She enquired after her son-in-law’s welfare and went in to the house.
“Look boys!” she cried at the boys playing in the backyard,” your brother-in-law has come.”
His wife’s brothers and sisters came out saying hesitantly, ”How are you?”
The arrival of their brother-in-law was a festival for them. His visit was an occasion for fun, frolic and different type of love.
His mother-in-law shot a volley of questions at him and went in saying, “ I’ll be back again, the rice will be overcooked.”
Again she came back to chat with him. She related to him at a stretch about the sore eyes of the children, her backache, the hail they had recently, the collapse of the calf-shed, his wife’s reluctance to do even common chores. At the same time she finished cooking food.

Karunakaram didn’t have the glimpse of his wife. But he was excited when he heard her bangles jingling from the veranda in the backyard.
Just then someone shouted from the backyard, “ Sundari!” That was his wife’s voice. His wife’s sister, Sundari went in, brought coffee in a cup and offered it to him.
His father-in-law arrived and spoke to him affectionately. Karunakaram was studying FA in Chennapatnam. His father-in-law sent him thirty rupees a month.
The affection, his wife’s sisters and brothers shown towards him, his father-in-law’s generosity, his mother-in-law’s plight, the coffee prepared and sent by his wife – all these didn’t give him any scope to entertain any doubts over his wife’s faithfulness.
He lay down soon after dinner being tired. But he couldnot sleep well. The clock in the neighbour’s house struck a half-hour--- it might be eleven thirty or twelve thirty. Then a knock on the main door was heard.
“Haven’t you sent word not to come today?” His father-in-law asked his wife in a hushed tone.
“There was no one to go,” his mother-in-law replied.
They spoke in hushed voices but Karunakaram heard them clearly in the noises of crickets. His father-in-law opened the main door. Karunakaram peeped through a hole in the door.
His mother- in-law was sitting on the cot. Rubbing her eyes his wife was seen going in to the next room. A paramour followed her. He looked like a debauchee to the core. Besides he was not unfamiliar to him, Naidu of the next street.
Karunakaram tried to open the door in fury but it was bolted from inside. He wildly kicked it. At last his father-in-law opened it. His wife was lying in the bed pretending to sleep.
“Your elder sister-in-law has bolted it from inside – playing silly pranks,” his mother-in-law said.
“Yes. I know. Where is that rogue?” Karunakaram asked.
“Who?”
“That bastard… Naidu.”
Both his mother in-law and father-in-law were astonished.

“No body is here. Perhaps it’s only a dream,” said his mother-in-law.
“He might have gone very far. It’s alright,” he said.
He knocked on the door with a thought of killing them all. But when he came out, he lost his heart. Unable to decide what to do, he took his suitcase and started out.
“Where are you leaving for? His mother-in-law asked.
“You gave your daughter in marriage to me and made her sleep with Naidu. Now you can send her to Choudhary to be his wife,” he said while moving out.
His father-in-law stopped him.
“First you listen to us. Yes we have done a wrong thing, Though we deceived you, we did it keeping your welfare in our view. I have been sending you money for your studies. Where could I, a family man with children get so much amount? Hoping that you would study well and come up in life and become a support to all of us, we did so. She is innocent. Don’t spoil her life. You say any thing against us. We’ll bear it,” he held him back.
"You shabby rascals. This year you have plastered the floor with cement. Next year you build a two storeyed mansion for your self. Leave me,” he abused his father-in-law.
“They have ruined my life… they said they are helping me…” Sarada came sobbing.” They have made me cut my throat with my own hands." She fell on Karunakaram’s feet, weeping, and she appeared innocent. Her eyes were like bees, filled with tears, as she sobbed- he couldnot bear it.
“Follow me. I’ll take you away from here,” he said.
“Let’s go,” she said.
He dragged her by shoulder in to the street.
“The next day is the festival. People talk ill of us. Stay till tomorrow and then leave as you wish,” said his mother in law.
“I don’t care whether four or forty people talk about you,” he took away his wife.
His father-in-law remained silent. Sarada went along with her husband as she was.


Karunakaram gave up his studies and settled as a clerk in Chennapatnam. He spent his domestic life happily without any trouble. Six or seven months passed by. One day Karunakaram saw Naidu passing by in the street. He had a suspicion. He could not
avoid going to the office the next day. But he managed to finish off everything by 3’O clock and waited outside in the street. Naidu was going away from his house by 4’O clock. His heart throbbed. He went into his house. His wife was lying on the bed, eyes closed, with a cover of fragrance. Her plait of hair –enough to hang any man to death- hung loosely over her breast.
Hearing his footsteps, she opened her eyes. She looked at him with her large eyes and suddenly leaned on him.
“You are a bitch. You can play any sort of trick. Go away. You dirty whore!” he pushed her away.
“Why do you flare up in anger?” she asked.
“When did you renew this affair again?”
“Which affair?”
“You whore! Hasn’t Naidu been visiting you?”
“Have you seen it?”
“Yes. That’s why all this.”
“It’s your fault to see that.”
“Isn’t it your fault to have relation with him? It’s my fault to see that…O my god.”
“Speak properly! He comes daily. He’s come all the way to Madras following me. So your doubt is cleared. Any way what wrong have I done to you?”
“Whom did you wrong then?”
“You have studied on Naidu’s money. Only because of it you are at least doing this filthy job. Your food and clothes are his charity. I havenot deceived you. I am robbing him and feeding you, as you are the man who tied the sacred knots of my tali. If I wanted to be unfaithful, I would have eloped with him. He would lavish wealth on me,” she continued. “You are doing that mean job which has no fame or name. I thought of revealing it to you. Meanwhile you have found it yourself.”

She sermonized, went in, took out a box, opened it with the key fastened to her tali chain and showed it to him.
There were ten-rupee notes bundle upon bundle countless in the box. Reflected in the mirror of the lid of the box, they appeared twice as many.
“Every time he visits me, he gives me two or three notes. Though I have demeaned myself, I am able to feed ourselves. I was defiled long back,” she continued. “ When I was useful then, I would be so now.”
“One should not see your face…go away,” he said.
“O… you seem to be very clever, you go away. What do you think of yourself? You have reached this position because of me. You get out of this house. You don’t need to feed me,” she said.
Hearing these words he shivered like one in fever. What should he do: Yield to her or leave the readily served food and his beautiful wife.
“It’s all over. Will you behave at least from now onwards.”
“You silly… “ She tweaked his cheek.
“Enough of these dallying acts. I have been deceived only by them.”
“What disaster has happened? Don’t be old-fashioned. How could a person offering so much of money be turned away. You give up this wretched job you have been doing. You can continue your studies as you wish. Then there would be no paucity for any thing,” she
advised him, took out a handful of currency notes from the box, and said,” Take these.”
He was at a loss what to do.
He hadn’t touched even four ten rupee notes at a time in all his life. There were bundles of currency notes full of the box delighting his eyes.
He wept involuntarily.
“Don’t get so emotional. Those who have no money are of no use. Here it is! All this is yours. I am yours too. Has your anger subsided? Join a college. Give up your job,” she comforted and convinced him.



Karunakaram was clever. He started studying studiously without interfering in unnecessary affairs. He passed MA and stood first among the meritorious students. He specialized in economics. He got a top-ranking job in a bank immediately after passing the examination.
Despite being mother of children, Sarada went wild in Chennapatnam. Hers was the victory march of Sri Krishnadevaraya.
She could experience the luxuries of diamond ornaments, silk clothes, fruit juices, intoxicants and silk mattresses.
Lavishing wealth on her, adoring her slender beauty, many debauchees approached her like foreign dogs.
Karunakaram was sharp. With in short a period he further advanced in his career and became a top-ranking officer in a foreign bank. There was no limit for her joy. She took him out and bought him a ford car as a gift. What else did Karunaaram require?
Sarada now presided over the competition among the school children and distributed books to them. Her photograph now was published in the papers as Mrs. Karunakaram. What else did she require?
The children crawled up to him saying, “father…father!”
Was he father to all of them? The eldest was Naidu’s son, the second daughter resembled the lawyer and next… Jayanthudu was a replica of Sarada.
Kunthidevi, who gave birth to six children for different gods, was considered chaste and virtuous wife. The elders who knew Dharma said that there was nothing wrong if the husband himself gave permission. Without anyone’s permission, Kunthi, the virgin gave birth to Karna to try the efficacy of the boon given to her. And she was about to commit infanticide. If Kunthi was a virtuous and chaste wife, so was Sarada. Dharmaraju and others were called Pandavas. If they were called the children of the king, Pandu, here they would be certainly the children of Karunakaram.
Those who had no children would adopt others children, Karunakaram reconciled. Life would be smooth for all only when they compromise in many matters. Karunakaram brought up the children borne by his wife and made them his own.

On his reaching home in a ford car from the office, the children ran up to him, Karunakaram went straight to his wife.
“Because of you I have achieved all this. You are Sarada, the goddess of learning, as you have bestowed education on me. Sarada can choose many. There is no harm in it. Even if it is objected to by Lord Brahma, it won’t be valid,” he started eulogizing his wife.
“What’s the matter?’ said Sarada.
“Are you free now?”
“Why?”
“ A small matter… after all your activities, I am the last…”he handed her a cover.
He received some information privately. Any way it would appear in the papers by evening. The next day it would be spread through out the country. Sarada was unable to control her excitement after reading it.
“Sir title! Knighthood! After so many years, I feel accomplished. I am the wife of the knight. From tomorrow onwards, I would attend dinner along with the Governor’s wife. I am Lady Karunakaram. What do you say?” She asked him.
“Yes, my darling,” he said.
Sarada was a great woman of chastity!
---------------------------
-Translated from Telugu by T.Sreenivasa Reddy

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Son of the Soil

Chilukuri Deva Putra
“Come and eat sankati,” Obulamma called her husband impatiently.
Lost in thought, Ramachandra sat on the pial outside the hut staring into space inattentive to her call. By then their neighbours had eaten sankati or something and sat under the streetlights gossiping. The children were playing a game of run-and- touch, yelling at one another.
“Sankati gets cold. Come and eat it,” Obulamma was impatient. She came out and shook her husband by the shoulder.
Ramachandra was startled. “ Have you finished cooking?” Getting up he said, “You have just begun it!”
Without replying to him, Obulamma went into the hut.
Ramachandra stood up but did not move. Obulamma bought water in a big brass container and gave it to him.
Ramachandra washed his hands, feet and face and drying himself with the checkered towel on his shoulder, moved into the hut.
“Ramesh! Suresh! Where are those rascals? Call them,” he told her as he sat down for food.
“They have already eaten and gone out to play.”
In the glimmer of the lamp, he looked at the plate. A big morsel of sankati of millets occupied much of the plate, and a substance like chutney nestled in one corner. He touched a little of it with his fore finger and applied it to his tongue. It tasted sour.
“It’s tamarind chutney again,” he said with a distasteful expression on his face.
“Yes. You have been earning a lot. Saving everything greedily for myself, I am preparing only tamarind chutney for you,” Obulamma shouted at him.
“Why do you shout? I just said that you have been serving tamarind chutney everyday.” “ Is it wrong to say so?” Swallowing hurriedly handfuls of ragi sankati, Ramachandra said. “It’s difficult to talk with you. I don’t know what irritates you.”
“Yes. It is difficult to live with me,” Obulamma looking angrily at him replied without lowering her voice, “You know how to silence me. Others think that I am a nagging woman. You speak softly but do everything silently looking innocent.” She frowned at him.
“What have I done, you wretched woman?” he mumbled with a smiling face, a morsel of sankati in his mouth.
“Yes, I have come here all the way because I am a wretched woman. It’s six months since we have come and settled here in Bellary. And you never heed me,” Obulamma continued.” I told you many times to sell away the ten acres of land in the village so that we can buy a piece of land here and build a small hut. But it never gets into your head. You feel happy paying a hundred rupees from your wages as rent for this hut every month.” Tears filled her eyes.

Will he allow me to sell the land as long as he is alive?” He questioned.
“Don’t utter those useless words. Tell him outright that you would sell the land. Why your father? Even your grand-father would accept it,” Obulamma replied. “You become so meek when you face your father that you won’t say anything to him. What have you grown like a tall tree for? Can’t you convince him that nothing will grow in that land where only the chameleons lay their eggs? For the past five years have we ever got a yield of more than ten bags of groundnuts? We dump bags of grains into it and look at sky for rains. Had it been fertile, why should we have come here all the way to earn livelihood? But won’t you ever think about it?”
“Keep quiet. Without regard for my father’s age you speak against him,” Ramachandra said.
Obulamma could sense the harshness in his voice.
“Aged! Yes, its only due to that I have been silent all these days,” Obulamma said. “ What’s great about age? Even a stone in the street will be old enough.” As she continued Ramachandra stopped eating, got up angrily and struck Obulamma on her back with the fist a couple of times.
With this unexpected turn, Obulamma with sorrow welling up started crying in a screeching voice.
“Do you speak in this way without any regard for your father-in-law? All the time I tolerated it somehow. But you go on without any restraints.” Ramachandra kicked the plate he was eating in with his left leg, as if to make his anger effective. The plate flew in circles hit the wall with a thud and fell on the floor.
Ramachandra washed his hands and sat on the pial outside. He could faintly hear Obulamma’s weeping from the hut.
“Ramachandra!” As he heard the call, he turned in that direction.
A person who was around forty came to him smiling. He was lean, and was wearing a white panca and a shirt. His partially grayed bushy mustache appeared to have been fixed on his face.
“How are you? Narayanappa! Are you all right?” He dusted the place next to him. “Come and sit here,”
“You have to come tomorrow. We are laying foundation for a house in Kaul Bazaar,” Narayanappa said as he sat on the pial.
Obulamma’s wail was not heard from the hut. “She saved me from embarrassment,” Ramachandra thought.
Narayanappa was the head of house-construction workers. Ten years earlier he migrated from a village, Kaluvapalli in Anantapur district to Bellary in search of livelihood. He began his life there as a coolie carrying stones. Soon he became the head of a gang of construction workers, well known in Bellary. Nearly half a dozen labourers worked under him now. Seven years ago, he had a small hut in the site given by the government. Which now had turned into a big building. He had two Godrej almirahs, a sofa set, a colour T.V and other valuable things in that building. He bought a house-site of twenty cents on the Sangankallu road in Bellary. It cost around three lakhs now.
“Tomorrow I have the work at home. If you want ,I can come the day after tomorrow,” Ramachandra said.
“It’s all right. Ramachandra! I will send for some other worker,” Narayanappa said. While inspecting the hut he asked,” How much rent do you pay for this hut?”
“A Hundred rupees.”
“Hundred! For this small hut, “ Narayanappa said. “ You said you had some land in the village. You can sell it and buy some place here and build a small house. You don’t know how good it is to have a house instead of land these days? In Guntur or Vijayawada one will be considered rich if he has ten acres of land. They are such fertile lands and they work hard to raise crops too. But in our area even if a farmer has twenty-five acres of land, he has to face problems throughout the year and it is difficult even to lead a normal life. Our lands are barren? In our village, Kaluvapalli my uncle has twenty acres of land but it is difficult for him even to feed his family. Consider my case. I don’t have even an acre of land. But are they equal to me? Nowadays cultivation has become a gamble or betting in a cock-fight,” he said. “Expecting rains in time, the farmers would somehow buy the seeds and sow them. Then, if there are normal rains, the farmer would survive. Otherwise he would be at the mercy of moneylenders. The fate of agriculture depending on rains is always so.” Narayanappa told Ramachandra and went away saying, “Take my advice. You sell away your land. Don’t mistake me, Ramachandra. I’ll come again.”
***
The whole street was deserted.
The streetlights were glowing brightly.
Ramachandra lay on a mat on the pial rolling this way and that. He was unable to sleep. He felt remorseful for beating his wife. He had never beaten her. Yet he hit a woman who had so much of love for him. If she talked the way she had, it was due to circumstances. It was difficult enough to live though both of them worked and earned wages. How difficult it was to send money to his father in the village for his expenses and also pay a rent of a hundred rupees for the hut! The children, Ramesh and Suresh were in ragged shorts, as they had no money to buy new ones for them. Of the three saris Obulamma had all of them were tatters.
Suddenly anger against his father engulfed Ramachandra. Only because of his father he had to face all these difficulties. He would not live with them there. It was true that the old man was very fond of the land. There was reason to be so, if it was a fertile one. He did not understand why he had so much of attachment to that arid land. He wished his father dead so that weeping for a while, he could dump him once for all in a pit. As he thought about his father he felt like killing him.
He would no more remain passive. He would certainly sell away the land, at any cost, without caring for the wails of his father.
The moment he came to that conclusion, he got up involuntarily. Thinking that his wife would be happy to know this, he went into the hut pushing the door. In the glimmer of the lamp he looked all around. The children were fast asleep. At a slight distance from them Obulamma was lying on the floor curling herself up. He silently went to her and knelt near her.
“Obulamma,” he called her.
She rolled to the other side. Then it became clear to him that she was awake.
“Ei! It’s you I’m calling,” he said and placed his hand on her shoulder.
She pushed it away angrily.
“ Abba! How can a woman be so angry? Please listen to me,” he pleaded.
“ So have you come again to beat me? Come on hit me. I am the only one who will tolerate everything,” she said weeping, her eyes looking into his.
“I haven’t come to beat you. When you talked badly about my father I was unable to control my anger and hit you.” Ramachandra forcibly took her hand in his and said, “I promise I would not beat you again.”
He observed that her grief had subsided.
“ I will heed your advice. I will sell away the land. Let the old man wail as he wishes. Are we happy though we have that property?” he lay down beside her and tenderly hugged her. Enwrapped snugly in his embrace she said, “ Then why put off the matter? Shall we go tomorrow?”
“All right,” Ramachandra kissed her on her forehead and said, “Let’s go tomorrow.”
***
It was noon.
The hot Sun was shining brightly.
“Oh, Ramachandra. Have you come just now? You have setout in the hot sun!” Chennappa welcomed his son, daughter-in-law and grandsons looking at them with great affection. “ How big they have grown! Come to me! Ramesh… Suresh!” he said holding them in his arms and happily showering kisses on them.
Ramachandra took away the old metal box from his shoulders and placed it in front of the hut. “How are you, father? Is your health all right?” Ramachandra asked. “ You have grown thin.”
“I am all right,” Chennappa said. “ Look at yourself. You have become skinny. Even she and her boys have become lean.”
“As you see us after a long gap, you feel so… Mama,” Obulamma said.
“Papa… Narasakka!” he called the girl from the adjoining hut. Despite his torn vest soiled panca he was wearing and his unshaven grey beard, his face was glowing with joy.
“Yes, tata! “ A thirteen-year-old girl with tasselled hair, and in green dirty dress, came out from the next hut. She was related to Chennappa: a grand daughter. Moreover due to his good nature, she helped him in his household chores.
“Your uncle, aunt and their children have come. We don’t know when they had food last. They must be hungry,” Chennappa said to the girl, “Cook some rice for them and give some water first for washing their feet, my dear.” He instructed her.
Smiling shyly, she went into the hut to cook food.
After an hour, they had food. The day was declining.
It was always cool there even when it was hot summer, as there was a densely grown neem tree next to the pial in front of the hut.
He felt it risky now to ask him to sell away the land. How should he put it? Moreover how to begin the conversation?
Chennappa was still smoking a beedi.
Lying on the end of sari spread on the floor, Obulamma was staring at her husband. Suddenly Ramachandra looked at her. “Come on. You begin it,” she gestured to him. “Wait a while,” he suggested her with his looks.
“How much of groundnut will we get this year?” Clearing his throat, he began hesitantly unable to know how to initiate the conversation.
“Yield… Had it rained at least twice by this time, it would have been different. With the attack of pest almost all the crop has withered. Even if it rains today or tomorrow the yield would be just enough for seeding. It is not only here. This is so everywhere. A gentleman told me this today…he had been to Hindupur, Kadiri to look for a match for his son. ,” Chennappa continued. “But how is life in Bellary, Ramudu… have you learnt any brick laying work?”
“Yes. I am still learning,” Ramachandra replied in a low voice.
“I always worry about you. But for the failure of crops you would not have left the village to live in a far off place as a labourer,” Chennappa said in a choked voice.
Unable to raise the topic of selling the land when he was so concerned about their welfare Ramachandra suddenly got up and said, “ I will go down the street to talk to Mallesu and Thippanna mama, father.” He went away.
Obulamma who had been looking at them intently to know what would happen became furious. “Thu…What a man is he! Just when he was to speak out he went away. He has no guts to talk to his father, but he is ready to argue with me,” she mumbled to herself.
***

Night. It was time for food.
The rays from the street lamp next to the hut spread light over the pial like moonlight.
While eating, Ramachandra thought out many times how to talk about the selling of the land with his father.
On the pial outside Chennnappa was gossiping with his grandchildren laughing loudly at times.
“Ramudu! These rascals are very clever. You have to be careful,” Chennappa said to Ramachandra as he came out after finishing food. ”Otherwise they will sell you both in the Bellary Market for three bottlu. How intelligent these fellows are!” he said looking affectionately at them.
Ramachandra smiled awkwardly. His mind was on the matter he wanted to raise.
“I heard the Reddys have sold away their lands,” Ramachandra said to his father as a prelude to the issue.
“Reddys?” Chennappa was still engrossed in the delightful company of his grand children.
“ I heard that Thimma Reddy has sold his thirty acres of land to the people of Uravakonda at twenty thousand rupees an acre.”
“Yes. After selling away all his land here Thimma Reddy is doing some business in Anantapur. They are all very big people. They do not care for their village or mother. They can live anywhere. Anatapur or Hyderabad… they are ready to settle anywhere and live happily,” Chennappa said as he took out a bundle of beedies and a box of matches from the pocket of his vest.
“But we stay on here whether it’s famine or crop-failure. Which god told us to be here, father? Why should we find fault with them? Our fate is so.”
“You fool! “ Chennappa said picking out a beedi from the beedi bundle and squeezing its end between his fingers. “Let them leave the village.” Chennappa lighted his beedi and continued ,” Why should we leave like them? How can one leave the land that is more than our mother”
“Because of these feelings our lives are so miserable. It is not late now. We will sell the land and buy some place and build a hut in Bellary and all of us can live happily together,” Ramachandra spoke out all that he wanted to say.
“You son of a ----. How many times have I told you not to raise this question,” Chennappa said.
Ramachandra sensed that his father was more furious from his words but he did not want to retreat. “You are mad. About the land. Because of it we have come to this ruined stage.” Ramachandra continued, “You raised a loan of fifteen thousand rupees to dig a well and only a boulder appeared at the bottom. For a bore pump you spent ten thousand rupees and it ended in vain too. No water but only debts to repay. By the grace of Rain God we reaped groundnut crop for two years and repaid the loans. Otherwise, could I and my children have repaid such heavy loan?”
“Why do you talk so strangely now?” Chennappa questioned him angrily. “Have you come all the way from Bellary to sell this land?” He became furious. His grandsons frightened, got off his lap then and ran to their mother sitting at the door.
“Why do you become so angry whenever I suggest you to sell the land?” Ramachandra shouted back at his father.
“Yes, I do, because it is my life. Selling it is like selling my mother… You always talk about the amount spent on it. Think a while. Without it my father, grandfather, you and me…All of us would not have lived a respectable life in the village,” Chennappa went on,” It is all due to that land. I wish you weren’t born to me. You are a person without any gratitude. Had your mother been still alive you would have sold her too when she could not do any work. You…wretched fellow,” Chennappa spoke with a strange expression on his face.
“I don’t care for all that. You have to sell the land and come to live with us, that’s all.”
Chennnappa sensed recklessness in his son’s words.
“I won’t come with you and I won’t sell the land. Do whatever you want to. You are so rude because you send me amount for my expenses every month. From now on you need not send me anything,” Chennappa said in an agitated voice, lit another beedi and began puffing it hurriedly.
“If you speak so I lose my temper,” Ramachandra said irritated.
“ Why should be angry? Have you lost any of your father’s earnings? What are you furious for?” Chennappa shot back.” I won’t sell the land, whatever you say.”
As their quarrel reached its culminating point the neighbours gathered.
“Ore… Ramachandra. Why do you raise the issue of selling of the land now?” An old man in the gathering said in his shivering voice.
“ Since all of you support him he has become so adamant and refuses to sell it,” Ramachandra said loudly.
“See… He talks without any regard to me…his father,” Chennappa was shivering in fury.
“Mama, why do you get so irritated when we ask you to sell the land?” Obulamma said.
“ So , you are behind all this. It’s because of you he is talking so. My son had never talked so harshly with me. It’s enough to have a daughter-in-law like you to break a family,” Chennappa said vengefully, though he had never uttered a word against his daughter-in-law since she came to live with them.
“Your son has no courage and so you hold the land fast, ruining us in the process,” Obulamma said spitefully.
“Being a woman you should not talk so against your father-in-law,” an old married woman said.
“Atta…You know nothing about our family. We want to sell it only to look after his welfare. See how he behaves,” Obulamma said.
“ If you don’t care for his wishes, why should you worry about his welfare?” Another married woman questioned.
Obulamma became furious and retorted sharply, “Why do you worry about our family problems? It’s no concern of yours. We have not asked you to deal out justice for us.”
“All right… We have nothing to do with you. You can do as you wish,” the old married woman left the place feeling unhappy.
“I will see how you can stop me from selling the land. Or else you give me my share,” Ramachandra spoke as if he was parting with his father forever.
Chennappa turned to his son as he felt it unpleasant to hear those words. Tears filled his eyes. Was it his only son who said all this? Was he the one whom he brought up affectionately?
“Ore… Ramudu! Why speak of your share and mine? All is yours. Do I have four sons to divide the land? You are not even my brother to share it with me,” Chennappa continued in mournful tone. “Take all of it. I can fill my stomach by begging in this village. Do as you wish.” He moved away as tears rolled down from his eyes.
Ramachandra and Obulamma did not expect this and they remained stupefied.
For some time silence filled the air.
“Amma. Tata is going away,” Suresh shrieked.
Obulamma did not say anything.
“Where will he go? An old man…He will come back after he cools down,” a middle aged person from the crowd commented.
“He will come back. Where can he go?” Others echoed.
***

The day was just dawning.
Ramachandra did not sleep the whole night. He was worried about his father. Many times he thought and repented that he should not have been so harsh with him.
Obulamma also was remorseful. She sent Ramachandra to search for her father-in-law in the houses of their friends in the village. She enquired about him in the street. She was distressed that she was rude with her father-in-law who used to call her ‘Papa’ affectionately.
Ramachandra’s eyes were swollen and red, as he was sleepless.
Thoughts swarmed in his mind like bees from a disturbed hive.
The thought that his father might have ended his life frightened him most. That was why he had been looking for him in the gardens and wells since morning. Some of the villagers accompanied him in the search.
It was morning.
“Ore…Ramachandra!” he felt as if his father had called him affectionately from a distance and he looked around vaguely. No one was there. He decided that he would never say anything against his father’s wishes. He felt like falling and weeping at his feet if he found him. He would never ask him to sell the land again.
“O… Ramachandra anna,” Rangaiah came gasping to him and said,
” Anna…your father dead. There in your land.” He pointed to his land. A body in white clothes was lying in his land a few tracts away.
As if he had heard a thunderbolt striking, he rushed to the land, shivering all over.
Amidst the withered groundnut crop Chennappa’s body lay serene and free from sorrow, like a child sleeping in the lap of the mother.
Dazed, Ramachandra fell on the dead body.
***


-Translated from Telugu by T.SREENIVASA REDDY