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Ruba… KN Malleswari, Telugu, Indian

While coming home from office I stopped at the turn of the street and looked apprehensively at the sky as a swarm of menacing black clouds from north-east started sieging it… Damn the rain! It won’t just pour down for some time and clear. It would settle into a mizzle. Nobody knows how long would it last! …. A sense of disgust seized me.

As I walked into the house, I saw Sateesh watching at the neatly arranged trinkets in the almirah and the swallows hopping on the window sill, wanly. I threw the handbag on the Deewan and sank into the chair feeling spent up. Coming from behind and smoothly caressing the back of my neck with his fingers where it parted into shoulders, Sateesh asked, “Shall I get you a cup of Tea, Sanju?” Leaning back I looked into his face. It was grave and gloomy like an overcast sky. I felt a sense of civility more than any genuine care or concern for me in those words. “I don’t want yaar …” wanted to something more but a lump in my throat cut short the expression. I walked up to the wash basin to freshen up and startled when I casually looked at my reflection in the mirror. Oh, me! It was the same face as his!

Leaving things as they were, I ran into the bedroom and collapsed on to the bed and wept my heart out. Sateesh came in, but stood there timidly watching me wailing. I felt a sense of pity… for him… and me too.

“Ever since we decided to live in, we consciously let things into our lives… as sedulously as a barn swallow that gleans twigs, reed and grass to build its cup nest. Sateesh was even more tenacious. He never came home empty-handed. He brought different flowers home every day. He regaled in surprising me. Against my will, he once went out in heavy rain to his friend’s garden some 60 miles away and brought a graft of Jasmine Sambac. He took such a care planting it in a two-foot porcelain pot. What a fragrance it wafted!

“Sateesh’s mother used to visit us occasionally though she was somewhat piqued by our habits which she found anarchic. Once during such visits, she handed me something in a small bag and advised with a mischievous laugh: “use it only when you need.” When I looked into the bag, I found an age-old wooden device for making shell-shaped cookies. Sateesh and I had little faith in following tradition just for the heck of it. But, that thin plank, seasoned with generations of use, had many interesting stories to tell about the women of the past. Throwing an ear to those stories I used to pack the shell-shaped cookies into cans for leisurely munching.

“Whenever we could contrive to be together alone, the fires within used to leap up wild stretching their tongues heavenwards. You should only watch the blushing face of Sateesh at such times! I cherished it.

“But, does he look as passionate now?

“I ventured a glance at Sateesh standing afar… and watched him for a while. But, what a fall!

“How does he look to me now?

“Ready one… two… three… Oh! If I could fly!

There was a flutter of butterflies in his looks.

“But, what’s there behind his patience in putting up with this cramped, boring room? Was it the love for me? In the past, whenever I came home tired, Sateesh who used to come home earlier, offered to make tea for me. It was so sweet and refreshing to hear him say that even if I did not understand the import of his words in the beginning. Gradually, the sweetness in his voice disappeared and the tea-time had reduced to a moment of perfunctory ritual. That’s what I was seriously concerned about.

“Perhaps time won’t stop at doffing its veils one by one; it injects some new fears into us in the process. He is with me now, alright! But, is he with me and me alone? When the very magic disappears from a magician’s bag, can the performance captivate the audience? Will I be left abandoned like a lone navigator on this epic voyage? Fear! Fear!! Fear threatens pointing its finger towards me.”

***

We were scared when rain water entered our room and went out for shopping to Vizag Central. Dumping the luggage collected after successfully killing two hours there, we sat like dolls in the car… his eyes glued to the front mirror, and mine to the side view mirror. When we reached Gurajada Kala Kshetram, the car developed some trouble and it refused to move further. We called up a mechanic and handed over the keys to him to attend to it. When he informed that it would take about half an hour, we wanted to have a peek at the Open Air Auditorium nearby.

“Folklore-Fest 2015” … letters glittered on the board at the entrance.

As we entered, we saw a flurry of activity all around. One group was playing “Tappetagullu” (performers wearing ankle bells and holding wooden pincers dance swiftly beat of drums); another group was dancing holding the pageants of the village goddess; and at the third, a host of tribal women were performing the popular “Thimsa” folk dance. Several curious native and indigenous instruments were on play simultaneously; the wafting mix of sounds and the surrounding mirth in the background produced a kind of harmony to the ears. A parrot-prophesier was after us teasing to foretell our future for long. Avoiding him with non-committal smiles, we settled on the top stair of the gallery in the open auditorium as day surrendered to darkness. We watched a woman sitting nearby carefully arranging her wares. A bundle of old clothes, a bamboo winnow, and a baton were to her left. As Sateesh and I exchanged muted signs watching her wares with curiosity, she got distracted and turned her attention towards us. She wore a thick green sari. With wide mascaraed eyes she greeted us with a smile sensing a customer in us. Turning the baton round and round in the winnow and saying, “I foretell your future… tell you the truth … and nothing but the truth…” she started her oracle and started coming on to us. We got up suddenly in fear and confusion. When Sateesh tried to ridicule her saying derisively, “You foretell our future? Stop at that!” her voice rolled like a thunder.

“Go! Go!! Go!!! The yolk between you twain is missing. End your brawling and make peace. Pay obeisance to Talupulamma and then search in the valley. Prostrate before Mather Forest and sieve the jungle. Find a puppy and bring it home. Until then you find no peace. I swear up on Kanakamahalakshmi!”

Without looking back she scurried off in a huff. For few minutes the whole world disappeared before us and that roaring voice reverberated in our ears. I was not sure how we came home from there.

***

At Sringavarapu Kota, I wanted to have a tea-break. Sateesh stopped the car rather reluctantly. The moment we slowed down, a black Jaguar which was following us on our tracks till then roared past us. Two girls peeped through the windows and made a mischievous ‘thumbs down’ gesture at us. I cheered them by waving my hand at them. At the roadside kiosk there were many eatables on display. Tea was boiling in a kettle on the stove nearby. We got down and ordered for tea.

“It’s 4 O’clock now. We can reach Araku by 6.30.”

Sateesh said looking into his watch. Though he was standing next to me, his words seemed echoing from miles afar. My heart already took wings and was eagerly watching the mountain range in the distance. When our eyes met, I did not understand what he found in me, but I sensed some distinct unease in his looks.

Those looks seemed familiar. But when? And where? I dug deep into my memory to find the answers…

Yes! I got it. That was long time ago on the Tantadi seashore. Shedding all inhibitions, I was swimming on the soaring waves at the beach. Suddenly, one wave as high as me burst upon me and we wrestled together for one-upmanship till we reached the shore exhausted. Then I saw the same unease in his eyes watching me from the confines of the shore. When I asked him to help me with a towel, he said, putting a step back,

“Sweetie, you look so beautiful but that’s not the problem; you are aware of it, and that’s the problem.”

I felt relieved when I could recall it. It’s a kind of relief you get when you know the other person also suffers from the same fears and apprehensions as you; the strange comfort of a drowning man at his partner in drowning.

*

This time I took the driver’s seat. Putting on the seatbelt sitting in the adjacent seat Sateesh said, “We have planned such a long arduous journey. Do you think that we can find the puppy we are looking for?”

My thoughts turned to that soothsayer woman. How resounding was her voice! How assertive was it!! How could she foretell in a trice ‘that’ something was amiss between us, when we apparently seemed lacking nothing?

Get ‘that’ missing thing…”

Her advice was to bring a puppy was replaying in my mind. Those words were so inspiring. As the ethereal words played over and over in my mind, I said with a confident air, “Yes, I am sure about it. We are even going to tame and take it home with us.”

Soon, we hit the ghat road. It was as if we were transported into a different world all of a sudden. For the eyes so wonted to gluing to gadgets like smart phones from close quarters for over sixteen hours a day, it was hard to focus on things afar. Into the pervading brightness that stretched to the limits of view, the unaccustomed pupils struggled to adjust. After a while the eyes settled.

On one side, the slope of a knoll cleared of bush and bosk for cultivation was like slabs of earth arrayed in steps to facilitate climbing up-the-hill. On the other side there was a vast stretch of yellow Niger flowers in full bloom. Crowning the fields, there lay a dense verdant forest. It seemed the buddies …woods and fields … were at a gyrating play, punctuating the nature in alternate green and yellow hues all around. Perhaps, we could never witness this kind of bonhomie of the two better anywhere else! A troop of monkeys was sitting on a cement platform built at the summit of a hill. Mother monkeys were watching the surrounds hugging dearly their young to tummies. Letting their lotus-stalk-like long smooth hairy tails to dangle onto the road, some of them were looking away from the road. For the occasional hooting from the vehicles, even if they had turned their attention towards the source of the sound, they threw such a nonchalant look at it …as if to convey … they don’t care a hoot.

Sateesh seemed he was in a trance. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Araku valley. All of a sudden, he drew me into his embrace and caressing my tresses he said, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead.” I was flabbergasted! In the early days of our friendship, he surreptitiously took a photo of me when I was drying my tresses. He put it as wallpaper on his laptop and on the flowing tresses in the picture he typed this biblical quote in gilt letters. The day I saw it I understood the words did not mean what they literally say! Having learnt the boy was yearning to sing the divine song with me, I offered him a hug before he made the proposal.

This time I did it once more, with my spare hand.

As we started the climb down at Sunkarametta, a streak of lightning hit Galikonda. It looked as if some great engineer was hiding in the skies and drawing a sketch on the canvas of the world with electrifying strokes. We stopped the car aside and sat on a culvert holding our hands together. With fond hope we started surveying the valley eagerly for the traces of that alluring puppy. The wind which was blowing like a zephyr till then turned into a gale and started throwing us off-balance. The birds began their loud chattering at the sudden onset of darkness.

From yonder hill, rain started coursing towards us swaying gracefully over the vast stretch of valley extending for miles separating us. We ran up to the car heralding it’s coming gleefully to each other and got into the car at the nick of the moment. The rattling of the rain over car roof betrayed how fiercely the rain hit us, which up till then was like balls of cotton drifting aloft in the air.

Wind joining hands with the intensity of rain, dead wood and leaves breaking from trees, started wheeling of in the air. Visibility was impaired with the dust and refuse making a screen circling in the air. Amidst impervious darkness and scary sounds I started the car.

We hardly passed two furlongs, when rocks of various sizes loosened by wind and rain started rolling off the mountain slopes onto the road. If the car were to be hit by some boulder! The very thought scared me. I became nervous and was sweating profusely. I veered the car off the road to the left and parked near a close crop of trees that served as a bulwark. When a saw a form hiding behind the tree till then coming forward in the glow of headlights, I almost shrieked like hell.

Watching the form closely Sateesh reassured, “Don’t worry. He is someone like us and is just asking for a lift.” The rain was heavy and in full swing. There was no chance to say no. He got into the car. He might be in his forties. During the course of our conversation we came to know his name was Simhadri. He was a small worker in a big factory in Visakhapatnam. Sateesh pulled out a shirt and a towel from his bag and offered him to dry. Holding the two in his hand, Simhadri went on an harangue of sorts …speaking about the issues with the management, workers’ strikes, agitations, petty victories and insufferable losses… suffusing each word with fire… a speck of fire in darkness.

Just like me, Sateesh might have also been disturbed listening to his struggles and tribulations. He interrupted Simhadri and reminded him to change his wet shirt. We then noticed a small shivering creature tucked under his shirt … a crow … drenched in the rain. Sateesh whispered into my ear, “we are giving lift for two.” That made me laugh again.

Lodging the crow carefully aside on the seat, he changed into the new shirt, and then as carefully picked her up into his hands and started conversing with her like he would with any other person. Turning back in our seats towards Simhadri, we were all ears to what he was talking to her. In a world where there is no dearth of people who domesticate parrots, koels, and birds of all fascinating hues, Simhadri seemed unusual petting a crow. Perhaps for having been drenched in rain, that poor grey creature’s hairs on the head were standing on ends. Gently and endearingly stroking her head to dry he went on mocking at her: “What, you dame of a slut! Did you go to Jawed Habib? Shall I get you a mirror so that you can have a look how fashionable you look?” Inadvertently Sateesh’s hand went over his spike’s hair style, and when I burst into peels of laughter watching him, he felt very embarrassed.

The night was deep and there was no let up from the rain. To kill time Sateesh went into a conversation with Simhadri and the subject ultimately turned into talking, unwittingly, about our personal matters with him. Occasionally, I had also presented my version of the stories, least thinking about the propriety to talk such things to a stranger and his ability to appreciate such things. After listening to us for a good length, he declared curtly: “If that is the case, what can you do? You better part your ways.”

We were taken aback.

“When we opened our hearts to you about our deep hurts, you don’t have any concern for our pain…” Sateesh was saying when Simhadri cut him short with a disapproving turn of head. With all seriousness he said, “Look! What has the world got to do with our pain? Just open its body and see if you can find its heart? You and I are just like that….” Simhadri pronounced matter-of-factly the irrelevance of his concern for our pains. We watched him befuddled. Looking at the streak of lightning over Galikonda, he continued, “That’s the reason why I rushed to here looking for a hound.”

*

The day broke.

After the rain had ceased, we reached Araku clearing the stones and branches strewn across the road. The way to Ranajilleda Waterfalls was flanked by a variety of lofty green trees. An acrid smell of the inflorescence from the mango trees in full bloom pervaded the air. Short but fleet-footed women donning saris in their typical tribal style and holding sickles in their hands were climbing hillocks and promontories with effortless ease going for work. To one side was the rippling cataract vaulting into the depths beneath, and on the other side was a stunning spectacle of nature one could not turn his eyes away from. Standing on the precipice of the valley and holding our hands in his, Simhadri began his chants invoking the nymphs of the forest: “O Mother Goddess of the Forest! The bestower of our wishes! I stand before you. Grace your looks on us! I brought my two urchins for your blessing. Heed to our prayers and shower your blessings.”

We were log tired sieving the forest for the puppy for the whole day with the man who petted and perched on his shoulders a crow… a bird that nobody likes. We could not find the puppy we were looking for. We reached the guesthouse at the fall of night. Amidst towering Deodars the structure looked like a flower fell off from one of them. By the time I came out taking a refreshing bath with lukewarm water, they lit a campfire in the open and Kotia women were performing traditional dance around it. We sat there for long eating the bamboo chicken and Roti prepared by them. When the night deepened, we felt it was the ideal time to watch the forest in its pristine glory in the night and the unfolding beauty of the night in a forest. We three exhorted each other and walked out into the forest night.

As we progressed forward the noises behind us gradually thinned. The road took a steep descent. Once we passed the haze of electrical lights, we could see the raining moonshine clearly. To the coolness of the midnight hour, the coolness of its 5 thousand-feet-above-sea-level compounded. It’s not the kind of coolness you feel when breeze kisses past you; it’s the steady and static coolness of the place. A coolness that settles on woods and valleys and glades and ridges alike.

Abetting the road we saw a huge tree spanning its thick foliage all around and casting such a dark shadow on the twenty feet road that we could hardly identify each other. From a coffeehouse shut nearby, a whiff of sweet aroma enveloped us. The black and white chairs set in the open in the shapes of queens, monarchs, kings, ministers and soldiers gave a strange appeal. If one were to look at them all of a sudden, it’s very likely that he would be confused if a court was in session.

*

Every one of us was silent. We went into a kind of meditation and were alert to every single sound the forest might make. It seemed the fowl and fauna of the forest also slipped into a trance. A mongoose crossed the road towards us from the opposite end. As we went on picking up our ears… we heard a kind of echoing roar that emanates from pervading silence, like the one you hear when you put a conch to your ear; a pleasant and thin roar of a rill jumping off the ridge of a hill into the deep gorge below. Simhadri suddenly murmured, “Mother Gosthani!” and fell silent again.

Silence reigned for long once more. I could hear the crawling of Red Ants near my foot. From the top of swinging wild creepers entwining the trees, something heavy had dropped with a thud into the bushes below. And by degrees silence asserted its sovereignty once again. As the moonlight swelled like an ocean of milk around us, the shadow we were standing in was like a dinghy floating on its crest. Sieged with fear and excitement I was about to catch Sateesh’s hand, when a thundering voice calling …“Ru…ba”… reverberated through the forest

We missed a heartbeat. There was eon’s old agony, angst and urge in that calling voice. Whose was that voice? Whom it was calling?

Looking all around apprehensively, we walked into the moonshine.

“Ruba…”

The forest resonated with the echoes of the calling. Who was so distressed and what was the reason? As we searched around our surroundings, we heard the footsteps of something running over the dry downy foliage not far from us. Our hairs bristled. As we carefully listened to the sound, we noticed it was coming towards us. We three gathered together involuntarily. The voice calling “Ruba” followed the traces of the footsteps. We were just eagerly watching. Within two minutes a dog speckled with white and black spots capered straight towards us.

“Is this Ruba? Is this what we are after? Is this the dog that we should have possessed?”

We looked at it every inch thoroughly.

Unable to contain our excitement, Sateesh and I bounced shouting “this is what we are we looking for… this is what we are looking for… ”   and tried to appropriate and caress the dog. Simhadri stood between us and the dog claiming, “this is the hound I am looking for.” We looked into each other in utter disbelief. As we lost ourselves in arguments staking our claim over the dog, a Kodu tribe appeared as abruptly as the beat of a tom-tom. He was the man who was following Ruba. With just a loins cloth on and emaciated in stature like a dry sprig, he held a pitchfork in his hand.

Looking tired, he sat on the stone slab nearby and watched our claims and counter claims for some time. Then finally, looking towards Ruba he made an indifferent remark: “Ruba can’t be domesticated. It cannot be used in a game. It’s just a watch dog for the flock. One has to run after her. That’s all.”

We were speechless.

“Then what about the dog we are looking for? How can we go back empty-handed? How to drag each day with fear?” Sateesh said in desperation. The tribe said with a sigh, “If you want to have a dog for petting, how can you get it gratis? Don’t you think it needs the womb of a mother to come from? As a rehearsal, you better try to follow Ruba wherever it goes. Once it is pleased, it will bless you with what you want. There she goes… already on the run …   come on… let’s see it does not get out of our view…” and summoning all patience he took off after Ruba running helter-skelter.

“It can never be domesticated. No one can have it in his backyard. The only way is to run after her and to be on guard that it never goes out of view”

Calling “Ruba” Sateesh and I started running after the Kodu and asked Simhadri to follow us.

“Ruba… is a great beast, no doubt about it. But it has lost its volition. How can I follow her?”

Shaking his head in dissent to follow us Simhadri, the crow petter, disappeared into another path… perhaps in search of a hound.

***

Telugu Original K. N. Malleswari

Translation: NS Murty & (late) RS Krishna Moorthy.

Read the original story here

KN Malleswari

               KN Malleswari

KN Malleswari (more popular as Jajimalli in literary circles) is a doctorate in Telugu and is currently engaged in Post-doctoral work in Andhra University, Waltair. She is a prolific writer with 5 Novels and a Short Story collection to her credit so far. She is running her blog (https://jajimalli.wordpress.com) since 30th October 2009.

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