అనువాదలహరి

Some Stars and a Few Drops of Tears … Vimala. Telugu, Indian

(The agony and angst of the story can be understood better by the readers if they come to know that the poetess Vimala was once an active revolutionary spending the prime of her youth in forests, married to another revolutionary (but had very little family life with both attending to different assignments) who was later killed in an encounter by police, came out when the direction of the movement did not suit her dreams, studied law, and for sometime practised as lawyer serving the cause of the poor and the destitute.

This was a real life incident, she claims, that haunted her through years, and finally came out as a short story.)

Paying the auto fare I hurried towards the bus. The Vemulawada-bound bus was about to start. It was almost empty with few seats occupied. Keeping my bag in the luggage bin overhead, I settled into a seat and looked around. There was an old couple in their sunset years. He must be their grandchild; he was teasing them asking for everything he saw. An old man with a blanket hanging over his shoulder was coughing relentlessly. A young girl in chudeedar plugged earphones into her ears and was blissfully oblivious to the world around. I was feeling very hungry and with the long journey ahead, I was afraid I would grow weak by the time I reach my place if I did not take something. Requesting the driver to spare me few minutes, I got down, bought a pack of snacks and the day’s paper and got back in. The bus started.

As I watched through the window bus after bus bound to … Nizamabad, Nirmal, Siddhi Pet, Godavari Khani…left the bus stand, and the butterflies from my memory-box started flying off one after another.  Butterfly… A wounded butterfly…

The early morning breeze was refreshingly caressing the skin. It was almost after twelve years I was going to Vemulawada to attend the daughter’s marriage of an old friend. I was not sure if I could get to meet some of my old friends. How years had passed from one world to another!

Where was that world of my dreams?

That was an altogether different world… a world with its tempestuous winds, loud sweeping D-Day cries of revolution,  and with the flourish of the Red Flag in the skies…seeking  the wheels of Lord Jagannath rolling.  Like the lone lame camel dragging on the desert of firmament…who was that camel, the Moon or me?  Where were the snows of yesteryears?

As the rain of thoughts inundated me, I shook off my head to see if the drops trail off and dry up.

I attempted to read the day’s newspaper … but the same monotonous news, allegations and counter allegations, and the fabricated stories in place of news… disgusted me and I put it aside. Many people boarded the bus at Siddhi Pet; there was a couple with a boy… may be around fifteen and a girl perhaps about eight to nine years… got in and when there was no room, I adjusted to accommodate the girl beside me.

Tangellapalli… Bus was crossing the Maneru Stream slowly… I closed my eyes. I could feel the warm tears streaming down my cheeks. Pretending to clean my spectacles, I dried my eyes and looked around if anybody was watching me.  Thankfully nobody noticed me. But I must control myself in the first place. I must control my wails, my laughter, my anger and all my emotions… a skill learnt hard over years.  Yes, I must control. Bus was running through highlands, over rocks and promontories and through mango groves.

Was it not amidst these mango groves that I cried helplessly standing alone that fateful day! The memories of at evening … as darkness slowly settled in from every corner … as those stretching tongues of fire engulfed the two bodies in awe …  when I struggled with my own self to remain composed but failed, and fell in a heap…flashed once more and tears filled my eyes.

No. No. let them besiege… pains, struggles, hardships, calamities, chronicles and legends; let them… let them…

*

At Vemulawada, they arranged a room for me at the Guest House. “Akka! How are you?”  Mallapuram Sarpanch greeted me. There were many new faces in that assembly and some old people did not recognize me. I stood there bemused. Had I known beforehand that Raghava Reddy called for such a big gathering perhaps, I would not have attended the marriage!

Akka! Take rest. I shall see that breakfast is served in your room.” Raghava entrusted the responsibility of taking care of my needs to somebody and left the place in a hurry.

Instead of remaining introvert and lie silent somewhere incognito, as had been my wont, why did I come here? Why did I start throwing open the doors closed … one after another?

I took my bath and was refreshed. I sat in a chair on the verandah and was idling watching people at the temple in front. Bare-footed people … in groups, in pairs and alone… were taking bath in the stagnant waters of the temple tank. Some of them had their heads tonsured. What do they get here? What do they want really? Are they trying to strike a deal with God? Why this mad sprinting…and for what?

Akka! I know you like this,” Sankar interrupted, putting a packet of temple-laddus in my hand.

“Oh! You still remember?” I received it with a smile.

“How can I forget? That night when we could not get anything to eat, Venkatesam sir, a temple employee, opened the locks and he gave us some laddus,” he joined me in my laughter as he recounted an old incident.

After taking lunch I was just idle as there was nothing in particular for me to do. The marriage was scheduled for late in the night. My thoughts somehow lingered into the past and around the Maneru Stream and the Mango groves where I moved about. That was almost eighteen years since. I came out of the room and called out Sankar who was talking to somebody.

“I just want to roam around for a while. Can you ask anybody if they can spare their car for a while?” I enquired.

“Why? Akka, you can use my car,” and in two minutes he brought his car and stopped in my front.

Taking my vanity bag I walked towards driver’s side and asked him, “Please, get down.”

He was taken aback and asked, “Why?”

Nevertheless, he got down.

When I sat in the driver’s seat throwing the vanity bag into the adjacent seat and started the car, he asked, “Where are you going? I am free and can as well take you wherever you want.”

Putting up a mock serious face I said, “Don’t you know that one shouldn’t ask such questions?”

As if he had remembered something from past he laughed rather loudly. Joining his laughter as intensely I started the engine and said, “Let not Raghava Reddy call me for the next three hours. I shall be home by then. OK?”

The smile did not leave my lips still.

Once when I was an active revolutionary, we planned a secret meeting and Sankar worked hard to make arrangements and collected all people at one place. When the meeting commenced, he came down and sat beside us all. When we politely told him that he was not supposed to take part, he would not listen. He was rather upset and said, “When it was I who made all the arrangements for this meeting, how could you forbid me from sitting here?”

…that was what both of us remembered and the reason for our laughter.

Where should I go?  There was no particular place in my mind. After reaching the Vemulawada cross roads, I turned left towards Karimnagar to enter the country side.

The landscape had changed enormously… no more mud walls for houses… Doors were now painted in red and blue; Antennae on the roof tops were looking like eagles on flight; Coca Colas, Bisleri Water, liquor bottles were freely available; Bramble and Calotropis spread wildly across the abandoned forts; there were more temples for Gods who never answer, and schools where nothing was taught; looms were either broken or went out of use; there were heaps of Bidi and tobacco leaves and working with them were deft fingers moving like machines; a game of cards was in progress under a fig tree; youth were just whiling away their time roaming on motor bikes; brokers and upcoming politicians were seen donning white clothes and  moving about in cars; the gravel roads were replaced by cement roads…. And they were not the roads I was familiar with.  I turned my car back and passed towards Sirisilla.  I know I was wandering aimlessly because I could not muster enough courage to go to that one place I badly wanted. I was not sure if I missed this time when I would be able to come next time.  So, I made up my mind to go. On the turn there was a police station, then a small park… and after that a godown… maybe a once-upon-a-time-cinema-theatre converted like that.

I parked the car, walked down the bend, searched for a neat and even ground on the sands and then sat down.  It was all dry around except for few pools of water here and there. In the distance, washer men and women watched me with a curious look. To my right was a thinly populated mango grove.

Maneru! Maneru! My haunting memory! … … …

It was twelve years since I returned to this same spot again. For all these years those memories were intact in the inmost recesses of my mind… memories of the places… of the people… and their fears… their desires… and the moments they hugged me dearly to their hearts.  I was not even half sure if it was an inevitable consequence or I was in some way responsible for the death of people who I commissioned. Nevertheless, they obeyed and just walked into death … going out at my own bidding.

And ever since, whenever I looked at the streams, at the mango groves, at young boys full of dreams in their eyes or the doe-eyed young girls, no one can really gauge how unsettling and disturbing those haunting memories were for the last eighteen years?

***

I was an underground revolutionary working in these parts those days.  Those were the times when no permission was granted to leave your place of assignment or to speak to anybody. For, fear gripped the air as nobody was sure how or why some of us get caught and killed by police under some pretext or the other. When elections were announced, we wanted to make the best use of the laxity in vigilance and somehow reach out to villagers and educate and reassure them. About hundred to hundred and twenty people from all places gathered here.

When nobody was willing to let out houses for offices, there was some good reason behind Mr. Narsayya’s letting out his two-room house for us; he wanted to settle all litigations of his property using our presence to scare his rivals.

In the open place abetting the house, tents were erected and arrangements were under way for cooking. There was quite a hubbub at the place. People were divided into small teams and each team was explained its duties and the places they had to visit.  The teams were dispatched one after the other.

At that time came a boy … lean, tall, white, with slippers on his feet, a cotton bag hanging like a sling to his shoulder… looking timidly and hesitant.

“Who do you want?” I asked him.

“Ravi Anna asked me to come,” he replied.  In the meantime Ravi came there and introduced him to me.

“This is Madhava… first year degree student from Siddhi Pet.  I knew him for the last two years. I invited him to gain some experience by moving about with people like this,” he said.

“Is this the first time for you?” I enquired.

“Yes,” he nodded his head.

“OK, then. But first take your meal and follow the batch going to Yellareddi Pet for four days. I shall talk to you after you return, OK?” I said.

As he was leaving, I asked, “Do you sing?”

“Oh yes. I can even beat the drum,” he answered and left. There was some childish pleasure in that declaration and I could not help smiling.

Maybe three days had passed… Anand came to me to make a complaint: That two people from his batch…Madhava and Tirupathi … were missing since the previous day. All of us were really perplexed and in a state of confusion and dilemma as what to do next. What could have happened to the two boys? Should we give a complaint that police had arrested them? Should we inform the press?  As we were weighing out the options, a boy from Siddhi Pet came handing over a small note. It read: “We had to leave for Siddhi Pet urgently.  We will be back in two days.  We are sorry for not informing you beforehand.”

Two days later when everybody left for their respective places, I was sitting on my cot in the empty hut and writing a report for the press.  These two people walked in hesitantly… I grew angry seeing them.

“What do you think of yourselves? What if something had happened to you…?” … I lashed at them left and right, but remembering suddenly from their tired-looking faces that the children might be hungry, I asked,

“Did you have anything?”

They indicated no by turning their heads. I felt sorry for losing my temper over these hungry children. I asked them to take their lunch and come back. Then I decided that I should deal with them coolly to know why they left without informing beforehand.

I called Tirupathi first.   He was with the Bidi workers for the last four years. There were also some police cases against him. Reminding him of all those things, I asked him,

“What’s this, leaving without informing?”

“Madhava asked me if I could accompany him. As I saw him worried, I agreed.” And he resumed on his own, “Madhava is in love with a girl.  She is his classmate. When the girl’s family came to know of this, her father beat her black and blue. When the girl phoned to a common friend, he came to know of it. He grew restless. After several attempts, he was able to meet that girl Jyothi only yesterday. ‘I want to go with you. Please take me,’ pleads Jyothi.”

When I lifted my head, I saw Madhava at a distance playing on the drum and gently humming a tune. He could hardly be eighteen or nineteen. But he was already in love! He was rearranging the curls falling on his forehead with a jerk of his head.

“What did you advise?”

“What is there to advise, Akka? They will not agree to it.  Come what may, they would marry her off to her first cousin. As for this boy, he has no father or mother. What after all, can these two do? Either they have to elope and marry secretly somewhere, or people like you should call the parents and give them a serious warning. Then they keep quiet,” he said.

“A serious warning,” that’s what was expected of me. This was what all Tirupathi had understood.

“OK. You can go,” I sent him. Tirupathi’s wife was a bidi worker. She delivered a baby boy just three months back.  He promised to be back before dawn next day … after seeing his son once. He walked up to the gate, but came back remembering something. He asked, “Akka! Can you please suggest some good name for my son.”

“Samar, Tarun, Manas, Ullas… or something or the other. But listen, Tirupathi! After all, why should I suggest a name for your child? Let the mother give the child a name of her choice.” I gently waved my hand bidding him good bye.

Then I called this boy in.  He sat there rather uncomfortably apprehending what I would say to him. He had a curly hair, palpable innocence on his face and eyes looking so full of dreams… Before I broached the subject, he commenced,

“I am sorry, Akka, for running away without informing you.  Tirupathi might have told you the rest.” He was fidgety about my reception of his explanation.

“You should better have informed us before leaving,” I remarked.

“I was afraid that you might not allow me leave if I had informed before,” he contended. And he was perfectly right. The compulsions of the movement and its priorities are different.

But, when I recollected that, at nineteen, I myself had travelled for nine hours to see my love just for one hour…an inadvertent smile slivered my lips.

“Don’t worry. I won’t say anything about that,” I reassured him, and I enquired, “but tell me, do you really want to run away and marry?”

The thin film of tear in his eyes did not miss my attention. I put my hand over his shoulder and drew him close, and said,

“I assure you.  I will talk to her people. Our friends are there in their village. They can talk to them at appropriate time. Nothing you fear shall happen. But before that, you should complete your studies and should be able to stand on your feet,” I commended.

He might have found my words reassuring; his face assumed its earlier glow.

“I never heard your song, but people often say you sing so well,” I initiated.

“I even write lyrics,” he said. This time his face was all aglow. He dashed inside and brought back a notebook with him. It looked like some calendar page, he upturned it and used as a cover for the notebook.  Madhava… was written in red letters. There was a drawing of a flute … flanked by two peacock pinions.

“How long have you been writing?”

“For the last two years… but, honestly, I don’t know how to write,” he said with a diffident smile. He put the book in my hands with some hesitation.

“Nobody can run from day one. They learn it over time.”

I opened the book..

They were very much like a beginner’s poems… about corruption, Gandhiji, Mother Teresa, travails of the poor, Red Flag, college friends etc., etc., but there was a poem “Forlorn”… perhaps it was about himself …which was really touching. After that there were some very elementary love poems… like “I can’t live without seeing you; I could not sleep; you walked into my dreams; wherever I look, I see you” …type.

And in the end were these lines…  “Dedicated to Jyothi, by Madhava”

“Is it? Do you love her so strongly?” I enquired.

“Yes,” he replied, and folding up his full hands shirt up his sleeves he showed: there was a tattoo of a lamp.

I raised my brows rather inquiringly.

“It is Jyothi … a lamp alight.”

“Then, did she get your tattoo on her?”

“No. She was afraid her family might see. As for me, I am answerable to none,” he said rather confidently. I wanted to ask something but refrained on second thoughts, as I realized the pathos behind those words.

“Jyothi has a first cousin… her aunt’s son. They want to marry her off to him. Because she made a lot of fuss about studies, they allowed her up to college till now. But now that they had come to know of our affair, they would marry her off soon even if she resists,” he reasoned. But, after a while, resumed the subject on his own saying, “But she will not keep quiet. She would kick him in his butts and comes back to me in no time,” and laughed heartily imagining the situation.

“Are you so confident?” I asked.

“Yes,” he sounded absolutely confident. I did not like to shake his confidence talking about the compulsions and constraints of his situation.

Then it seemed he had recollected something suddenly, he went in and brought out his sling.  He pulled out a shirt and a pen wrapped carefully in a paper.

“Jyothi presented me this pen last month for my birthday. It is her wish that I should write more and more poems with this.” He was gleeful with hope and reflections.

Then I strongly decided to speak to the parents of the girl myself once I finished the work on hand. I told him the same thing. He held my hands and shaking them vigorously, “Thanks, Akka! Thank you so much,” and he ran out.  Whether it was out of uncontrollable pleasure or to conceal from me the tears of loneliness … I was not sure.

* I was writing the last lines of my report.

“Won’t you like to have your dinner?” It was dark all around. When I looked up I found Madhava. I nodded my head.  He laid out two cots under the moonlight and served dinner in two plates from the remains of the morning’s preparations.

He was all enthusiasm throughout the dinner. It was Madhava’s day….

He lost his father when he was young. When he lost his mother at ten, his uncles removed him from school and put him to work for wages. But one night he ran away to Siddhi Pet and in the cold, slept in front of the gate of the school he studied. One Vidyasagar, a teacher belonging to some union, found him and taking pity on him, kept him in his house for some time before admitting him in a Social Welfare Hostel. When his uncles came there to claim him back, Vidyasagar threatened them with dire consequences and sent them back. From then onwards Madhava never visited his village.

Vidyasagar looked after him till he passed tenth standard. But three years back he was transferred to some other place and he lost contact with him.

“But what do you do during holidays and vacation?”

“I just stay there in the hostel,” he said.  “I work as newspaper boy in the mornings; I write accounts for few shops in the evenings. Whenever I find time, I attend to some miscellaneous jobs.”

I folded the two bed sheets like a pillow and reclined on my back on the cot watching the skies. Rambling across the sky, the full moon was playing hide and seek with the cloudlets, and here and there a star flickered bright. It was so cool, pleasant and soothing to heart.

On the adjacent cot was Madhava.

“Before I got to know Jyothi, I felt like committing suicide any number of times.  Nobody knows how many times I wept secretly by myself thinking of my loneliness. I don’t know why, but I felt happy after emptying my heart to Jyothi. Sometimes, when I was unhappy she too felt unhappy; but soon reassured me saying she was there for me.”

Perhaps he thought I was not listening to him, when he did not hear my ‘yes, yes’ and asked, “Are you listening to me?”

“Indeed,” I replied, “please go ahead.”

Akka! No child should suffer my fate.”

“What do you want to do after you complete your studies?” I asked intending to change his mood.

“I like children.  I think of all professions teaching is the best. We will start a school for children. We run the school under trees… just like…what is that? Yes … on the lines of Shantiniketan.”

And continuing the vein he said, “We must settle well, Akka! And must help people to whatever extent we can.”

“And?” I asked to know his views further.

“I like plants. And whenever I can buy farmland, I shall buy at least one or two acres very close to a stream….  And I shall put up a small cottage there, and grow flowers all around,” he said shyly, suddenly realizing how dreamy his ideas were.

“When I grow old, I shall come and stay with you. I like to live in such surroundings” I cackled.

“I never talked to anybody like this before. But somehow, I felt like opening out myself to you,” he said matter-of-factly.

That pleasant cool night I could see some inexplicable pleasure in that youth’s eyes as he mentioned about his love. What a wonderful experience it was!

“Enough! You have to go to Rammadugu tomorrow. Please go to sleep,” I said and pulled the bed sheet over and slept. Immediately I slipped into sleep. When I woke up sometime in the middle of the night and turned towards his side, I found him still watching the full moon without batting an eyelid. In no time I was back to sleep.

The day did not break yet. Tirupathi woke me up to take leave. “You take those six people from Vemulawada with you,” I instructed. My eyes were still heavy with sleep. Madhava, standing a little distance from me, said, “Akka! Bye.” For my unspectacled eyes, his form looked hazy. I waved my hands bidding them good bye and returned to my sleep.

That evening… a known news reporter came to office in a hurry and informed, “I am not sure whether it’s in the morning or this afternoon, police have encountered two of your people.”

Growing anxious I asked, “Where? Did they identify the people?”

“Near Rammadugu… they say it was Timmanagunta,” he said. Some ten of us ran to that place. On the way, we found the villagers hesitant and frightened. Enquiring people all the way, we could somehow reach the place.

Who were they? Who were the encountered? Who were the unfortunate of the eight people I sent there? It was already getting dark. There were police everywhere and they did not permit us go near the bodies. They used force to drive us away. They transferred the bodies secretly at night to the Government Hospital at Sirsilla.

We knocked the doors of every officer but no door opened for us; we prayed at least to permit us to see the dead, but they flatly refused saying they would only allow the family members.

Whose family should we call? And in the team I sent, there were youth from every corner of the state. Some of us were engaged in searching for the names and addresses, and the contact numbers of the youth sent towards Rammadugu.  Even if the survivors had returned, we could have made out the missing.  What exactly had happened there? Did they catch rest of them alive… would they kill them again and …? No. No. No. I could not imagine further.  There were about twenty-five people in the office. They were writing slogans protesting against the encounter.  After four in the evening we came to know that they kept the two bodies, wrapped in wild date palm mats after performing postmortem, in a dilapidated mortuary abetting the hospital. We ran there to claim the bodies in a procession. The youth followed in frenzy. Youth… in the spring of their youth, bubbling with enthusiasm and who just caught hold of that magic baton of dare-dreaming. The police became apprehensive and sieged us locking us in a circular array. They did not allow anybody to move out. We fought and argued with them.

In the meantime somebody brought news from a ward boy working in the hospital who identified one of the two bodies: That one of the two was Tirupathi!  Run! Run!  Run to Tirupathi’s house before night fall… before his body was consigned to flames… to bring them here for the last glimpse. We should reach out to them as quickly as possible.

‘Poor Tirupathi!!! Tell his mother…tell his wife … that that her Tirupathi was no more and he would never come home… Who’s there to carry this message? Will you? You? You? Go! Come on, hurry up.’

There was nobody at his house. They left for Duumaala to attend marriage in a relative’s house. Tirupathi could not guess when he left in the morning that death was lying in wait for him. They brought an old man from home who could barely see. He was trembling with fear and agony. Police did not permit him to go near the body with the excuse that they could not decide whether he was really the grandfather of the deceased or not? Poor fellow! He was the only son to his parents.  But, they wanted proof. For that matter, what was Madhava to Tirupathi? They were not acquainted for ten days even. But like a big brother, he reassured him, and went out to mediate his love affair.  Did Tirupathi play with his son last night?  His wife was so young.  What would be her fate? How would she rear up the child?

After a long drawn argument, some of us were permitted to watch the cremation from distance. Darkness was slowly settling. On the sandy beds of Maneru …there were few pools of water scattered here and there and on the shores of one of such, close to the Mango groves, two high funeral beds were arranged. Who were there lying under those logs? Who was the second in particular? Was it Madhava?

‘No! No! No! It shouldn’t be him! He must be alive.’… Tears swelled up in my eyes in a culmination of the sandy storms raging within for the last two days … now the sea of grief overwhelmed its barriers. I was crumbling within…If it was not Madhava, he was some other youth. If I wish Madhava alive, I must permit someone else …! Who was that someone else? Who was laid up there on the pyre?

… On the bed of logs …lying lifeless … there was a youth…unknown. Did he not have a dream? Did he have a love story? Did he share his yearning for life with somebody on a moonlit night? Who was he?  “Madhava! You should be alive!” … my heart cried. For, I knew his inmost struggles… his joys… his pains… his love and his dreams for morrow! Poor fellow, he shared them with me. What a dreaming eyes were his! How nascent and blossoming was his poetic expressions! I could visualize … on the banks of a stream… his cottage under a coral tree… there was the girl he loved who could sacrifice everything and come away just for him… No! What a sufferance it would be for her!  No! No! Madhava! You shouldn’t die!

Then, then… what about the ‘other’ youth who I never knew, or knew nothing about his dreams? Is it OK just because I did not know him? No! No! It shouldn’t be anybody! There were two lying there on the funeral beds…left like orphans… destitute. A helplessness to bid them a last salute… Somebody lit the pyre… dark blasts of smoke scattered… red hot tongues of fire enveloped them… it seemed it was I that was burning there… Oh! It was I… It was I who sent those youth on the mission… Poor children, they went out obeying my word. It was I…I…I. Who was the unknown person on the second pyre? I ran towards those burning pyres …wailing… wailing my heart out. I was dazed and lost control over my being. Police prevented me near them with their lathis.

Who was alive and who was dead? … At that moment it mattered little… did I not die with them? Those wee hours of pre-dawn… when light struggled to penetrate the thick veil of darkness…the two youth looked hazy to my sleepy eyes and bade me their last goodbye by waving their hands…they just walked into the furnace of embers… ‘Oh! …Madhava! Madhava! Are you alive or dead? ‘

Just then, arrived Tirupathi’s mother and his wife with her three-month old son… Tirupathi’s mother was wailing beating her bosom. Some of his relatives tried to go near the pyre but police did not permit them either.  Tirupathi’s wife’s voice went hoarse with her uncontrollable wailing. “Akka! He said he would give this boy whatever name you suggest.”  How could I console her?

Next morning… the same routine stories … some details about Tirupathi… statements in support or condemning the encounter… They mentioned that no other details like the name or place of the second youth were available… and the only identity mark was a tattoo of lamp on his left hand. The worst fears I entertained came true…what all I feared had turned out real.

In two days, the rest of the youth deployed to Rammadugu returned one after another. What had exactly happened that day? When I collected information separately from each person and pieced it together this is what I understood:

By the time the team of eight collected at the supposed rendezvous that fateful day, it was seven-thirty in the morning. They had to go to a village about twelve kilometers from there. The bus had already left, and no bus was there until after noon. If they had walked by shorter route they could reach the village within two to three hours. So they decided to walk down. And soon, they took the shorter route through fields and promontories. When they reached a culvert, four of them stopped to attend to their ablutions and asked the rest to proceed.  Tirupathi, Madhava, and two others reached the high point overlooking the village. They came face to face with the special police returning after their routine combing operations.

When police asked, “stop and identify yourselves,” the two boys walking few paces behind, took to their heels. In the confusion that ensued, Madhava and Tirupathi went clueless as what to do and ran towards the village, perhaps, expecting some protection there.  Police chased and shot at them. While Tirupathi died on the spot, Madhava was injured but ran bravely and hid invisible to the police inside a drainage pipe under a culvert. Meanwhile another police party with a dog team joined them. When the dogs sniffed and started barking, police followed the trail of blood and understood he was hiding in the drain.  Assuring that they would do him no harm, they made him come out of his hiding and killed the youth …standing in front of them with wounds all over and without a weapon on him…, instantly. Hiding under the culvert and tossing between life and death… what that youth …Madhava… might be thinking about?

People started leaving to their respective places. When I was busy in those arrangements a young girl came to see me around two in the afternoon. Asking her to wait for an hour if there was nothing urgent to communicate, I was back to my work.  When I was bidding farewell to the last batch, the girl came to me and said, “I am sorry. It’s getting late and I must leave.”  It was past four by then. Apologizing the girl for the delay, I asked her to sit beside me on the cot. “No. I want to speak to you in private,” she said.  I asked her to follow me up and we sat in a corner on the terrace where the Neem tree had cast its shade.

She was in a petticoat and half-sari. Smooth and tightly combed hair; wide eyes covered by thick crop of eyelashes.  She was sitting by me downcast and for a while she did not speak anything. Eyes bleared with tears she raised her head and said, “It’s me… Jyothi,” and besieged with emotion, she held my hand tightly. When I attempted to say something she broke all of a sudden, and started wailing her heart out. I took her into my arms. When I myself was in tears, how could I console her?

“He said you would talk to my people,” she recalled. I dried her tears and tried to comfort her.

“I did not inform at home.  I thought I should at least see you…” her voice went hoarse with grief.  I suddenly remembered something and ran downstairs. Coming back, “when I was writing some report and suddenly needed a pen, he gave it to me,” and handed over the pen to her.

With tears in her eyes still, she said, “I presented this pen to him.”

She excused herself in hurry lest she might miss her bus to Siddhi Pet

I stood there blankly looking at that eighteen year old lass… overwhelmed with grief but never blaming anybody … hugging books close to her chest and walking down the deserted-looking street.  What would become of her?

*

That boy … that bubbling youth… his innocent love… his dreams about life…the banks of Maneru…two raging funeral pyres as the sun went down in the mango groves… the smell of burning human flesh amidst surrounding black fumes… leaping tongues of fire … the teary eyes of that young girl… remained green in my memory… and they continue to wrench the heart.

But why? Did not people die before for known and unknown causes, or out of compulsions or helplessness?

I came to my senses when a washerwoman hailed at me, “Child, it already dark.” When I looked into my cellphone, there were already five missed calls. I did not notice them since I kept the phone in silent mode. Who could that be, Sankar or Raghava? I hurried back home. After all, I wasn’t too far.  I called back informing that I would be there soon. By the time I reached my room Sankar was standing there.

“What happened to you? Worried if you might have been kidnapped…” he was laughing mischievously.

“Those were bygones, Sankar” I said and hurried in. I refreshed myself, changed into new clothes and entered the marriage hall. Old friends exchanged greetings and some new faces introduced themselves. As the marriage was scheduled late into the night, cool drinks were served to the visitors at their seats. With the spurt of new businesses … rising upper and upper-middle classes… growing statuses… … buffet dinners … this was not the Karimnagar of the olden days.

Placing the plate in the collector after I finished, I took the last dessert, ice cream, in my hands and pulled a chair and sat far from the madding crowd under the silence of the open, starry blue sky.

“Can I sit here?” a lady asked me before joining me. “I recognized you in the bus this morning. I did not talk to you as my husband and children were there by me. I came to the guest house … hoping to meet to you there,” she went on.

I was perplexed. I could not make out who she was. I looked at her more carefully… wide eyes… something flashed in my memory. But, before I could say something, clearing my doubts she said, “Madam! It’s me… Jyothi.”

I could notice the swelling tears in her eyes. She was getting emotional – and disturbed.

I held her hand in mine. “How come you are here? What are you doing?”… An endless trail of perfunctory questions.

The groom was her distant relative. She dropped out from college. She was married to the same person, her first cousin. He was doing some small contracts here and there and was a political figure of some reckoning.  As he was aware of her past, he kept his wife under his control.

“Somehow I am able to exist…” she said at last. She did not, perhaps, wish to reopen the old wounds. I made no mention of Madhava; neither did she. Calling out her name, somebody came in search of her. Going half way, she returned to me and said, “You asked me how I was, isn’t it? See.”

She flaunted her left arm lifting the sari covering her left hand.

There was tattoo of a small lamp alight.

“Now and forever…this stays with me,” and she hurried without looking back.

In that ethereal moonlight, I remained looking at my own empty hands…

***

Vimala Morthala.

Read the Original in Telugu కొన్ని నక్షత్రాలు కాసిన్ని కన్నీళ్ళు

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