అనువాదలహరి

Damayanti’s Daughter … P. Satyavathi, Telugu, Indian

I usually pull the window blinds down on Sundays to keep the Sun away. But my roommate Sneha, who gets up at six no matter whether it is Sunday or working day, and with old Hindi songs in the background cherishes reading every damn Telugu and English daily with its supplement leisurely sipping her coffee, shall not permit me the luxury of sleeping late into the day.

“If you sleep like a lazy cow I shall have to drag you out,” she warned, and I knew she would literally drag me out if I had delayed any further. So I got up quickly and finished my preliminary ablutions like brushing and face wash. With a dramatic gesture, “Welcome my lady! Which starry worlds can I take you?” she said, setting the coffee mug near me.

Before she finished the last words, the phone rang… like a stone plopped into still waters.

It was my paternal aunt.

“Don’t look for alliances for me,” I curtly and angrily told her any number of times, but she would not listen.

“Listen! Parents on one Mr Santosh from Samalkot liked your profile. The boy also liked it. I had already talked to them. All of us are coming there on Thursday. Apply for leave and make yourself available. OK?” She issued a dictum. I thought Thursday was too far from Sunday and I could invent some good reason to escape from this.

“I asked the beautician to come here at nine thirty to give me a massage. After that, for the whole day we shall be roaming, eating out, discussing etc., etc…” proposed my friend.

Before we could chalk out our plans where to go, what to buy and whom to call, another stone plopped in the pond.

“I want to talk to you. Tell me when and where I could meet you?” That was none other than the Santosh from Samalkot who my aunt said, had liked my profile.

“I nether want to meet or talk to you. Is it enough if you have liked my profile? Don’t you think I should like yours? Besides, we will be meeting on Thursday any way. What is the hurry before that?” I said.

“It is a very important matter. Please!” he pleaded.

“Let him come. We can have some fun. Ask him to come here right now. Let us decide the issue ourselves. I am here, don’t worry,” reassured Sneha.  I conveyed him accordingly.

Santosh from Samalkot had the same qualifications and was as decently employed as me; he dressed up very neatly and had Brut spray on him (he might have even gargled some mouthwash too) and arrived scenting the air as he entered the room. After the preliminary courtesies and exchanges were over, he spilled out the beans. He said his mother got a sudden and unsettling doubt in the midst of the previous night whether Damayanti had indeed died or ran away? He also said, that she was disconcerted and mumbling and grumbling within from then on. To be fair to him, he did not use the word “ran away” but used the same clichéd, worn out, out-dated word which our relatives, neighbours, illiterates, and people who never had access to Brut’s, mouthwashes or scents, used over and over.

“I am sorry Mr Santosh. No. I can’t please you hiding the fact and say Damayanti had indeed died. Can you recall the word you just used to describe her action a while ago? Eloped. Yes, that’s the very word. It was exactly what she did. And I am her daughter. Does it satisfy you, now?  Tell your people this truth,” I said. The perfume he used was nauseating.

“No. No. It’s not that exactly.  I will convince my people. I tell them that your colleagues in office spoke so well of you. I just asked about it rather casually…, that’s all.”

“But, I haven’t enquired about you in your office… and at other places. Why should you be so condescending to me, and after all, what for? Sorry, Mr Santosh, we are not compatible. Please tell your people to stop at this.  I can answer my aunt.” And, I bade him good bye.

“You bring your aunt here. If she stays alone there, she can’t remain peaceful and goes on bothering you with one match after another,” suggested Sneha.

“Hum! Her son and daughter in law are already under the impression that I am enjoying all her money. If I bring her here they now start thinking that I brought her here for her gold and all other properties. In fact, it was she who tomtommed that I was a motherless child. She should have told everybody the truth. Anyway, I can’t hurt her sentiments. After all, it was she who brought me up.”

“Then, can you put up with if some Santosh or other comes in and disturbs you every day?” asked Sneha.

***

I did not feel sad for what Santosh had said.

Such words no longer moved me to tears… anymore. True, I wept listening to these very words when I was a child and, perhaps, shed enough tears for a life time. Later, I struggled to contain them at the threshold of my eyes. And only of late, I had realized that tears are very precious and except for great emotions and touching gestures, nothing else is worth wasting them on. I entreated those teary friends of mine to keep their dignity and not to come out often into the open. They understood and were loyal to me.

But with all that, who are they to stigmatize Damayanti and pass it on to me? To pity or condemn us?

As if God had created her just for me, Sneha became my classmate. Later she became my colleague. When we took this apartment together, she had become my friend, philosopher and guide. Next to my brother, only she is very close to me. Sneha was a warm overwhelming brook. She melted away my prolonged silence; helped me come out of my diffidence and straightened me; taught me how to laugh once more, and put song back into my voice. She inculcated the reading habit in me.

As Sneha surrendered her head to the beautician, I sat there silently and lost myself in reverie… On my mind’s canvas black and white images paraded like chiaroscuro.

…….

When I returned home after my music lessons with Soundarya’s mother, the day had already receded from the horizon rather reluctantly, and I found no lamp alight on the veranda. Father was fretting and fuming with anger in that translucent darkness. There was a piece of paper in his hands. Leaning on to a post, my brother was wailing. I wanted to ask my mother what was wrong. Searched all rooms but they were all dark. There was no light even in the kitchen.

“Where is mother?” I asked my father. There was no reply.

He shred the paper in his hands into pieces, made a heap and put a matchstick to it. When my brother hugged me and wept, I too wept bitterly without knowing why. Mother did not turn up. Nobody cooked any food. We slept hungry and tired of wailing. Next morning I found my paternal aunt in the kitchen. I did not like her.

“Where did my mother go?” I asked her.

“To hell,” she answered.

I did not feel like going to school that day. But when father commanded me to go to school in anger, I had to, because I was so afraid of him.  I went to school praying my mother should be home by the time I returned. But no, she didn’t. Days passed… two… three… four.  My mother did not come but I got fever.  I craved for her touch. When my aunt tried to give me medicine I flung her hand in disgust. Fever abated after ten days. For my reluctance to get my hair combed by my aunt, it matted and was infested with lice. My aunt brought a rough comb and started straightening my hair carelessly. The comb grazed my scalp and it started burning. She started speaking all foul words about my mother and cursed her intermittently. I was so furious that I wanted to hit her on the head with a pestle and throw her out of the house.

“Get out of my house,” I shouted at her. I snatched comb from her hands and scratched her hand with vengeance. Blood spilled through the white lines. I thought she would hit me back, or would complain to father to get me beaten. But she did neither. Instead, she took me into her arms and said, “If you want, I will leave this place this very instant. But the moment I go, your father will remarry for the sake of domestic help. Whosoever comes, she will not comb your hair or remove lice, take proper care of you or give medicine putting up with all your tantrums. You are a poor innocent adolescent of hardly ten years. You can’t understand these worldly things. But one thing is for sure… your mother will not be back. She left you people. I came here because your father has asked me. I am here only for your sake,” she said. She was living alone in Vijayawada… separate from her son and daughter in law. Mother used to say she was not on good terms with them.

I asked my brother, “Are you sure that mother won’t come back?” He said yes. He was only four years older than me, but he knew many things and took good care of me. Whenever I refused to take food, he used to explain and appease me.

After a month, he packed up all his belongings and joined a hostel in Hyderabad. To be fair to him, instead of saying he had left, I should rather say, father and aunt had sent him away reasoning out that as a boy he should study hard and the atmosphere at home was not conducive to his studies. One never knows how bitterly I wailed for his absence and for my helplessness!

Coming home from school, I used to run up to the kitchen directly every day entertaining a fond hope that I might find my mother there; and every day I get disappointed and would break down to tears. Refusing the glass of milk my aunt would offer, I would try to leave the place.  First she would get angry with me, then she would try to cajole, and finally she would break down to tears herself. Seeing tears in her eyes made me feel gratified, for, I had a feeling that she was somehow responsible for my mother deserting us. Once she came down to tears I would have my milk coolly and sit idly in the veranda.

“Go to music class!” my aunt would shout at me.

I no longer liked music. Soundarya’s mother was bad and she used to talk just as bad about my mother as did my aunt.  I did not like to learn music from her anymore.  I stopped playing shuttle at the school. I failed in all subjects during my quarterly examinations that year. I rarely talked to my father. In fact, he became such an introvert that he stopped talking to anybody. But on the day he saw my Progress Report he called me to him. He was not angry as I feared. He calmly explained to me the advantages of getting good education. And he promised to educate me so long as I wanted to study. But when he asked me to forget about my mother, I burst out. I held his hands and wailed uncontrollably. Maybe he too was touched; he left the place in a hurry. My aunt hugged me and ran her hands down my back affectionately; gave me water to cool down. How on earth could I forget my mother? I would still inadvertently search for her sari to wipe my mouth when I hurry out after my meal; whenever I noticed the first bunch of blossoms appearing on the Jasmine, I would hop in delight to inform her forgetting she was not there; I would still leave the soiled school shoes as they were with the belief that my mother would tend to them. Many times I struggled hard to keep myself from breaking down when my teacher reprimanded me and I remembered my mother and her absence.

My brother wrote letter on my name to my delight. He wrote it was fine there at the hostel and he made good friends. He advised me to study well without unnecessarily wailing for my mother. And he promised to write me whenever he could find time.

One day as I wiped my mouth to my aunt’s sari frill inadvertently, she turned back, laughed and twanged my cheeks.  That summer my father got a transfer.  My aunt said that he had opted for it.  She introduced me as a ‘motherless child’ at the new place. That means that my mother had died. I was so furious with her for saying so.

“My mother is not dead. She will be back. If you say it again I will not tolerate,” I warned my aunt.  She laughed at me and kept quiet. People said my aunt had great pity for me.  I did not like somebody pitying me. So I did not want to talk to such people. My classmates at the new school also started pitying me. Then I decided not to talk to anybody. For that matter, I did not want to make friendship with anybody. I wanted to keep to myself, to study well and stand first in the class.  I was slowly getting used to the absence of my mother. But how can I forget her? Whenever I looked into the mirror, I would remember her…. my curly hair and my eyebrows and even my complexion… were all hers, they say. If I had not left for school that day, perhaps, my mother would never have gone. Even she bade me good bye that day standing at the gate!

As we were getting used to the new place and new people, and me to the new school, father went on tour for one week. Before he left, he gave a chain and a pair of bangles of my mother to my aunt asking her to keep them under safe custody for my sake. She somehow appeared very sad to me then. And when my father returned, there was a woman with a big suitcase beside him.

My father asked me to treat her as my mother. “Come what may I won’t do that,” I said to myself.  One day I saw my aunt packing up. When I asked where she was leaving, she said she was going back to her place. I entwined her legs with my hands fearing that she might really leave and begged her to take me with her. Father objected saying that I would be missing my school. Pining for my mother and my aunt, I fell sick and ran high fever. I wanted to die.  Meanwhile my aunt came to see me. I bear hugged her lest she should leave me once more. This time, she took me with her and joined me in a school there. When I looked for a towel to wipe my hands after the meal, she offered her sari frill. When I wanted to put the plate in the sink, she asked me to leave it as it was, and she would attend to that. To straighten my hair and arrange it into neat tresses she brought a smooth new comb from the market.

Every week she gave me shower with soap nuts; took me to cinemas; and volunteered to share her bed with me. Now, I couldn’t do with my aunt those playful things I did with my mother … like making her run around for me after applying oil to my head before taking the shower; or, to run away in another direction saying “I am there in few minutes” when she called me for lunch; or leaving the glass at the window after taking milk to make her mock-angry with me. I was afraid that my aunt might send me back to my father and to the woman he wanted me to treat her as my mother, if I angered her with my behaviour. So, I implicitly obeyed her.  Whenever nightmares troubled or thunders or power failures frightened me at night, I would attempt to nestle close to her but refrain. She would then herself draw me close to her. Remembering the woman my father had asked me treat as mother, I would snuggle closer to my aunt. Well, even if I had missed my mother’s touch, I felt, my aunt’s touch and caress was the next best.

People used to say, “Who would take such care of a motherless child?” and I thought it must be true. They used to advise me not to make my aunt angry. I agreed. After all, it was she who was sending me to school and treating me like her own child. She was very good at heart. But she always abused my mother and I did not like that. Slowly, I learnt to hide my displeasure and leave the place whenever she did that.

When I was scared of the blood stain in the back of my skirt and ran home wailing one day, she reassured me by explaining what it was, and said, “Now you are grown up girl! You should not wail for every little silly thing. You are my darling.” She celebrated the event and bought me new clothes. Spite of all that, she could not replace my mother. But she loved me the most, and, that kept me still alive and ticking; And I was able to study well. “After all I am not alone; I have my aunt,” I felt.

 My father and the woman he asked me to treat as my mother came and introduced a boy and a girl as my brother and sister. I decided that I would never treat them as my brother and sister. The woman also presented me with new clothes and caressed me over my head.  She was my step-mother. Many people including my aunt said that step-mothers won’t have genuine love for their step-children. So I did not like her even if she had brought me new clothes and caressed me on my head.

*

Anuradha teacher was reading and explaining “The Forsaken Merman” of Mathew Arnold.

“Call her in your voice! Children’s calling shall touch a mother. Come on. Say this: “Mother! We can’t live without you! These billowing tides of the sea are frightening us.’ You call her.” The merman was making another attempt with his children to call back their mother who deserted them.

He was reminiscing: “sitting on the golden throne of this ocean empire, it was only yesterday that you sate the youngest child in your lap! The church bells chimed then…”

Whatever lesson she teaches, Anuradha teacher forgets herself and becomes one of the characters of the lesson. The Mermaid had left her husband and children. The Merman was goading the children to call her back.  The teacher was so involved that her voice grew hoarse as she had become the Merman. She was reciting the lines of the Merman: “Here came a mortal, but faithless was she.” I was listening. Tears were flowing down my cheeks.  The lesson had come to the last. The last lines… “There dwells a loved one, but cruel was she”… As the teacher was uttering these lines the last bell rang. How I came home I don’t know, but I scurried out of the class in a hurry not to betray my tears.

 “But cruel is she!” was ringing in my ears. I banged the photo of my mother I brought with me when I came here with my aunt, on to the floor in anger.  Then I picked it up the paper and got it laminated so that it won’t break a second time. But I tucked it at the bottom of the trunk. I wept my heart out. “Cruel is she!” I wondered how my brother was so stoic. It was I who wailed for her, craved for her, yearned and was angry with her. But still I could never forget her. She was my shadow… a shadow that was long now, short next time and disappearing altogether sometimes, make-believing it did not exist.  She was my mother… a mother who made me a motherless child; a mother who made my childhood an ocean of tears.

As I slowly understood where Damayanti had gone, I wrote to my brother: “Does our mother love that person more than you and I? Doesn’t she bear any love for us at all? At least she could have taken us along with her?”

He replied: “Poor chap, when you could not treat her as mother whom father had asked you to treat as mother, how can you treat him as father whom mother asks you to treat him as father? Wherever we lived, we would have had only one parent. Forget about these things and get on with your studies.”

*

“The day when I had brought you with me when I saw you wailing locking my legs with your hands, I did not think I would be able to keep you with me this long. We have become so close. I realized how much a girl child could add to life when she moves about in the house. You brought all my efforts to fruition and are successful in your studies. Go! Take your father’s blessings now before joining in the new job.  He is your father, after all. Take some sweets for children and clothes for your father and her…” advised my aunt. She hugged me close to her heart before parting.

I asked my father for the first time “Why did mother leave you? Did you not look after her well? Why did you tear off the letter she addressed to you? We could at least have known the reason why.”

If my age had made me bold, his age might have mellowed him. Looking all around and ensuring that the one whom he asked me treat as my mother was not there around, he said, “Child! I am a down to earth man. She was a heavenly spirit. She could not adjust to this mundane life and so had left. There is nothing more to say.”

*

Another heavenly spirit had walked away with her singing… “Let me take you to the realms of stars”… Did she get the love she sought after, at least there? How should I know?

—–

When I cannot concentrate on the book at hand or when sleep plays hide and seek with me, I get a call from my brother across the coast of Atlantic. Only he knows exactly when to call me.

“What news baby?” he asked.

“One Santosh from Samalkot had assured me that he would convince his parents even though I was the daughter of Damayanti. Of course, he had already made thorough enquiries with my colleagues,” I replied.

“What more you need, then?  He blessed you. Best of luck. He must be very shrewd. Along with tying the marriage knot he would also stick a stigma of your mother on your forehead and use it conveniently when necessary. You will be indebted to him for your life for his generosity. And if per chance sometime in future you become conscious of your education, your job and intellect and give him rejoinders, that stigma of your mother will work like a paperweight…” he laughed.

But I returned to my ever haunting question, “How our mother could forget us in the first place, tell me?”

I love asking the same question again and again, and hearing his usual answer and his philosophising in an emotionless voice.

He answered as confident as ever:

“Baby! Don’t you think that she has a right to her life and mould it the way she wanted?  We can’t demand sacrifices from her for our sake. We can never know the circumstances that prompted her to leave us, unless she reveals them on her own.  Leave it at that. Pray, as our mother, she should be happy wherever she is.”

“Then what about the agony I suffered all along?”

“Then, what about the agony she would otherwise have had to put up with if she remained with us?”

I had no answer.  I don’t know what answer she had!

***

P. Satyavathi

Indian

P Satyavathi

A postgraduate in English Literature, P. Satyavathi was a Lecturer of English at … College. She is a noted short story writer, and a bilingual translator .  She is a blogger running her blog : http://satyavathi-p.blogspot.in/ since june 2010.

Read the Telugu Original here: దమయంతి కూతురు

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