అనువాదలహరి

Kapardi … Viswanatha Satyanarayana

Kapardi

(A dream turned into a story ) Andhra Patrika Ugadi Special 1949.

***

I knew Kapardi for the last two years. And that acquaintance developed into some kind of friendship. My respect for him was waxing by the day. He might be around thirty. He was a lawyer by profession. Though there was not much of an income from that, he was getting an annual income of about four thousand from his paternal property. Apart from Law, he was a graduate in English and was very good at Sanskrit and Telugu literatures. He had some initiation to music but was more reputed for his knowledge of both theory and practice of Bharatanatyam. So, when Kapardi, a legend in my view, invited me to his house, how could I refuse? Sure, one might say it was out of friendship, but the friendship was only namesake. Deep within my heart, I venerate Kapardi as my guru.

For long, a curiosity  “how his wife would be like” used to bother me. For such a Manmadha-like figure as him, a connoisseur of music and scholarship was she equally matching?… Was she as beautiful? Was she as literate? So when he invited, though for the sake of etiquette I first said, “I promise to come next time,” I deeply longed within to go. He then complained, “you gave me the same reply when I asked you last time.”  I needed no further excuse.

His was not a house … but a new palatial building. One would find all modern architectural nuances there. I stretched myself in the easy chair in the verandah. It was my long desire to hear him sing or perform a small abhinaya for my pleasure whenever he could. Hesitating for about half an hour, I was tempted to put forward my request. “Do you want that only I should perform?” he asked with a smile. I was start.”What? Will he ask his wife to perform? Does he feel so friendly for me at heart as to ask his wife to perform before me?” I wondered. He then replied, “Not me, but I ask my boy to perform” he said. I was reassured. I did not speak a word more. Kapardi called out his boy.  I was in doubt if he had really called out his son.  Because what he called out was neither a Telugu nor a Sanskrit name. It was a European name… Ronald.

He was a four-year child. He came to us. He had very white complexion, reddish hair and catty eyes. He looked a typical european. But his looks, his childish mien, and the sweetness of his smile reflected his Telugu bearing. I was unable to reconcile at the contradictions. Kapardi was watching the look of surprise in me.

“Child! Just enact a Muvva Gopala Padam” Kapardi said. The boy felt shy at first looking at me. That bashfulness revealed a typical Telugu upbringing.  Kapardi cuddled the boy, coaxing and reassuring him saying ‘Don’t be shy. He is our friend,’  and himself initiated by rendering the first few words of the burden of the song. The child slowly got over his initial diffidence, paced two steps, swung around stretching his hands babbling the rest of the burden of the song in his sweet little childy way, and seized with bashfulness suddenly, ran and jumped into Kapardi’s arms. Kapardi embraced him bursting with laughter, patted him on his back, kissed him and took him inside the house and left him there.  How I was all the while? I was still … like a statue. Bereft of any awareness without, my stream of thoughts was flowing like a boundless river within.

“Did he marry a european girl? But nobody had ever told me that he went abroad. If his wife were a european lady, why would she hide inside this long? She might have already been here on the verandah to discharge her hostly responsibilities. Then, how would he speak to her,  in Telugu? Perhaps, he would converse only in English…. There was no end to this train.

“You seem lost in thoughts. What are you thinking about,” Kapardi asked. I came out of my trance instantly, hearing him and spoke incoherently, “nothing… the boy…it’s good.” Did he laugh at me?  Was he overwhelmed with grief? Did he recollect his past?  Did he look at me pleasantly? Or, was he all at the same time?

He did not speak to me for ten minutes. It was ten at night.  I thought I might have blabbed something foolish. I felt very embarrassed and wanted to leave, but could not say that. Noting my disposition to leave the place, he said,”You are going to take your dinner here tonight”. His word was a statute. He was my lord and I was his subject.

By the time we finished our dinner it was eleven. We were sitting in the open and conversing. Kapardi got up and asked me to follow. We went inside the house. He took me to an adjacent room where Ronald was sleeping on a smooth high bed. Kapardi watched the boy closely for a while standing by the bed. I had also watched him. Then, Kapardi silently walked out and I followed him. We sat in our chairs in the open.  Kapardi began his story….

1

I was twenty-two then. I lost my parents in my childhood.  My maternal uncle who restored me all my property died when I was twenty. I was looking after my affairs myself for the past two years.  I was getting an annual income above five thousand. You might be aware… my uncle tried to get me married while he was alive. I said I would not marry till I passed my B.A. And, knowing my adamance, he turned down all proposals.  And after his death, people had to approach me directly for any proposal. Nobody dared to approach me directly, and the few that dared, I sent them off with some brusque replies.

However, it was not that I was not interested in marriage.  There was a story behind. listen.

Once I visited a village to attend the marriage of my friend. As was the custom those days, they arranged a dance programme of nauch-girls. As my friends were aware I had some knowledge of Bharatanatyam, they pushed me to the fore when they were dancing. There I saw a fourteen year old girl in that band.  Her complexion, her fine sharp nose and the setting of her eyes on the face, the confluence of lips, the lustre of the ends of her eyes spilling over her cheeks, and the peeping youth through her body like the glistening of the flowering banana, the innocence of her eyes, and her sly capering looks at me, whether advised or on her own, and the consequent bashfulness … was a singular experience.

We returned from marriage. I developed a distaste for food. I thought my thinking was going perverse because  there were no elders to censure. But, however rationally I reasoned, I did not find anything wrong with my thinking. I decided to marry her, if I were to marry.  But what was she to me?  I was not a social reformer.  Neither  had I ever had any sympathies for the reformist ideas earlier. Of course, I was not against them as well. My entertaining the idea of marrying her was not out of any spirit for reformation, but out of my belief that God had created her for me; And, me for her.

“Oh! How was I so infatuated of her?  She was a child of a harlot family. Would she remain chaste for me? Shall I remain her paramour?”

Tut! However hard I tried, I could not reconcile myself.

So I hurried up. I enquired my recently married friend and others where she hailed from. They laughed at me. I went to that village, located her house, and visited her house stealthily after fall of night.

Why should I bother you with all other details. They thought I came there to deflower her. I thought of informing the purpose of my coming to them gradually.  Her name was Mrinalini.

Mrinalini and I lived together for a year. Meanwhile, rumours started circulating among friends. I raised the issue before her mother any number of times, but every time she used to pacify me saying,”what is there? You can marry her later. Why do you hurry it up?”

However, Mrinalini and I lived like a married couple. I taught her Bharatanatyam. Her voice was a veritable treat to the ears.

In the bliss of her company I enjoyed, I never seriously entertained the idea of marrying her or to emancipate her from the vile environment she was locked up. As the year came to an end, I understood that her mother and sisters were in no mood to send her with me. Had I asked Mrinalini seriously to follow me, perhaps she might have.  She was only fifteen then.  They warned that they would file a suit against me if I made any attempts to take her away with me as she was still a minor then. I was perplexed. Mrinalini and I wept embracing each other. I had a feeling that Mrinalini was not mature enough to understand the nobility of our relationship. I gave them any amount for the past one year . From the day they refused to marry her to me, the flow of money ceased. And things took a strange turn all of a sudden. One day when I returned to their house Mrinalini was not at home and they said she went out to visit her relatives.  A week passed. But there was no trace of her. And my mind changed.

I was a bachelor of Arts by that time.  In my anger, and grief, one evening I left for Madras and joined the College of Law.  It was a two-year study. Every night I thought of her. During the day I could forget her. But, whenever I was lost in thoughts debating about my action late into the night, the conclusion was always remained the same. She’s my wife. I wont marry another.  I  feared that her mother and sisters might drag her into prostitution. Even if they did, I had decided to marry her. If she were to refuse me, I resolved to remain loyal to her and lead the rest of my life that way.

2

I passed my Law examinations.  I went directly from Madras to their place. My friends there invited me to their home. But I refused.

“Hey! It seems you did not lose hopes of her. let it be so.  But you must see her performing. These two years she became so famous.  They say there is no equal to her in Bharatanatyam these parts. She will  accept no invitation. And shall not perform in marriages. We are so eager to see her performance. And if you come along, it is very likely she might relent and we would be lucky,” they pleaded. They also told strange stories about her….that she had a son …  a european had kept her…that she had joined Congress as was a volunteer for last one year… that she always wore Khaddar…and, that it was suspected she was suffering from TB for the last six months. Not one… but in thousands. My head reeled. As much my hopes were dashed and dejection seized me, as much my interest in her doubled and the yearning to visit her instantly grew. My feet dragged me behind them to her house.

I sat in the verandah.  As I was sitting there, Mrinalini came there. She was wearing a white saree. She did not seem wizened. I looked at her in bewilderment. But there was no surprise in her look. Neither was she overjoyed. She showed no reservations either. She behaved just as she did two years ago when we lived  blissfully together. “Was it, what all these people had said, true Or false?

Then my friends said, “we came here to see your performance, Mrinalini.” She immediately came near me, and leaning and resting her bosom on my left shoulder as she would have done two years ago whenever I had asked her to perform,  she asked, “what do you want me to perform?” The moment I felt the touch of her body, I noticed she was running high temperature. But she did not seem to feel it.  I found it strange. How could I discuss it among so many people around. I asked her to perform one Keertana I taught her. It was about “a mother kissing her child.” Mrinalini acted that keertana. I never saw such divine performance before. I did not teach her. My God!  Those shades of affection in her eyes… and the curves the chin and the cheeks assumed as she bent her face to look at the child! It’s imprints were still green in my memory. I could not resist the mental tension. I was afraid that she might collapse under the burden of her performance. Unable to contain my emotional upsurge, I left the place without speaking a word to anybody .

  3

To the north of that town there was a stream. It was a perennial.  There was no bridge across that. People had to walk through the stream to cross it.  A new township had developed on the other side. Her house was in the old town, on this side of the stream.

The sun was about to set. I reached the stream steeped in my grief. I felt someone was walking beside me.  When I looked aside,  I saw Mrinalini. And this child was under her arm. He was one year old by then. She was wearing a chequered Pondur hand-loom saree with a Jari border. I did not ask her anything. Nor did she speak to me anything. I understood that she was coming with me without informing at home. Darkness fell by the time we reached the stream.  Yet, people could recognise each other in that darkness.  The water was knee-deep. If Mrinalini were to get into the water, her saree would get wet completely. So I crossed the stream holding her in my arms. People looked at me in wonder. In the new township a hotel was run in a big building. it was an Iyyar’s hotel. Where should I take her? I wanted to take a room for her for the night and bring her to my place the following day.  I asked Iyyar for a room but he said there was no room. After repeated requests he vacated a room in the terrace and accommodated her.

“What do people think of me if I take you with me now? You are not fit for me to marry you. You go and stay with your mother. And I remain a bachelor imagining you as my wife,” I said. By the time I returned taking dinner, her mother and sisters were there. They perhaps tried to persuade her to get back home. And seeing them all in her room, I left and did not return for the whole night. Neither  had I had any sleep that night.

I was sure that she might have left the place with her mother. But a ray of hope somewhere lingered that she might not have. A doubt.

When I visited her room the following morning, she and the child were sitting there in that room. “Didn’t you go home with your mother?” I asked her. She did not reply.  I had a strong urge to embrace and tell her, “let’s marry and live happily.” But strangely some vague a hay-thin reservation restrained the flood of emotion from expressing my love.

Perhaps, I might have entertained a thought to wait till evening and take her with me if she was still waiting for me there. I left.

Hardly two hours passed. There was a Satyagraha demonstration on the road. Some body informed me that police opened fire to disperse the Satyagrahis who defied law, and that  Mrinalini died of one bullet shot. I went there and found her dead.

Concerned about the child, I immediately ran to the hotel. The child was crying his eyes out. I thought of taking the child to Mrinalini’s mother. before that, Mrinalini’s mother and other relatives came there but did not speak anything about the care and custody of the boy.

I brought the boy with me. During their conversation I came to know his name was Ronald. The boy was thinking I was his father. In a way, I was.  What I failed to comprehend then was why  Mrinalini behaved the way she did. I came to know later… that her mother and sisters put her to lot of suffering and privation.  Unable to resist and put up with them and with nobody to fall back upon,  she had yielded…

  ***

The deep sigh of Kapardi struck me deep in my heart. I slept there in his house that night. Should I console Kapardi? Express my sympathies? Praise him that he was a great soul? Or, should I censure and blame him for his degeneracy? … I was not sure. But my respect for him had grown more than ever.

I could sleep in the wee hours of the day. Kapardi woke me up. He hurried me for taking coffee.  This Kapardi was not the same man who narrated his story the previous night. This man was bubbling with enthusiasm… was like a pleasant repartee. Before the moonlight of his smile every kind of gloom would melt away. This was the same Kapardi I knew for the last two years and whom I meet occasionally… a connoisseur of art,  a sweet conversationalist and a lifelong  artiste.

Original : Sri Viswanatha Satyanarayana

From: “Chinna Kathalu”…  ISBN: 81–47-1, pp 99-106.

(With apologies to the Viswanatha Family for not taking their permission as I am not aware who to contact in this regard)

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