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A Letter To Mother… Manasa Yendluri, Telugu, Indian

Manasa Yendluri

Manasa Yendluri

 

“Dearest Mother,

I am doing fine here. Wish you, father, brother and sissy are doing fine there.  I am sending only eight thousand this month. I will try to send ten to fifteen thousand next month. Vasantha Akka helps me a lot here. It is from her that I occasionally take hand loans. Did you pay sister’s school fee? How is father? Has there been any improvement in his health? Did brother get rid of his drinking habit?  Try to put him in some job. Taking help from Vasantha Akka and Bujji Akka I will somehow dare getting out of this place. If all goes well as planned I shall be back next month itself. Then I will take care of you people doing any odd and sundry job at our place. Please remind me to everyone. Take care of your health. Eat properly on time.

I remain,

Your

Suchitra.”

I shoved that letter into the hands of Vasantha Akka secretly and I said, “Isn’t it strange sis Vasantha that though letter-writing has been replaced by SMS’s with the advent of Twitter and WhatsApp messages, when you sit down to write a long letter taking pen and paper, you become traditional in your approach? Of course, I did not write the “Safe here and hope the same with you,” kind.  I laughed at my own joke.

“Pinky!”

“Oh! There is a call for me already. It took me more than six months to get used to that name. Sis Vasantha, I have to go. I did not even finish my breakfast. What hell broke loose to that fellow early in the morning! Please post this letter today. Send money as well today! Please don’t forget.” I told her in hush hush and hurried into the house.

“OK! OK!” She bade good bye and left.

*

 Tidying up my sari frills I entered the room. By god’s grace the man was looking good… neat and healthy!  “Thank god!” I said within and asked, “For one hour?”

“No, Two,” he said.

“What the hell you do for two hours? There is growling in my stomach” I cursed him within and sat by him on the cot.

“What is your name?” He asked taking my hand and placing it on his thigh.

“Pinky.”

“Why don’t you tell me your real name?” he smiled suggesting that he knew it wasn’t my original name.

“Hum! This fellow doesn’t look like getting on with his business unless I engaged him in some empty talk.  Strange creature!  Why should he drag me into silly conversation instead of getting what he wanted to have and leave,” I mumbled within.

“It’s my name,” I said inviting him.

 “I have many tensions in office and home.  I want this to relieve my tension. But my wife won’t agree to it. She doesn’t like me.”

“Don’t you hit the bottle?”

 “Why? Is it necessary that booze works for everybody?”

….

He left after engaging in frivolous talk for two hours.

*

After a while when Sony and I were taking our breakfast, Mahi joined us and sat beside. As was my wont I took a slice of idli and was about to put it in her mouth when I noticed her lips were badly bruised and looked as if blood would spill anytime even for a simple touch.

“What happened? Did he bite?”

“Bastard! Do you think men are that romantic? He dashed my head to the wall after I told him the truth. My lips were crushed… ha…ha…ha…” she tried to laugh. Blood oozed out from the wound as she laughed.

“What! Did you tell him the truth?” Sony asked in bewilderment.

“For his good I advised him to wear a condom. He refused bluntly and shutting my mouth lest I should speak further, he got on with his job. After he released his hold, I told him I had AIDS and advised him not to meet his wife. Ha! Ha!! Ha!!!. He banged my head to the wall, spat on my face and left.”  Mahita was still laughing.

That’s not new. We got used to it.

*

Whatever we do, whatever we talk, whatever we eat… everything happens under the watchful eyes of brokers and pimps. In this large building hundreds of us live. Yet, they keep a constant vigil on the movements of every one of us.

Vasantha Akka did not turn up for the last four days. I was not sure if she posted the letter or not. It would take three days for the letter to reach our place.  Even if mother had replied the same day, it would take another three days to reach here. But I can never know how long would it take for the letter to reach my hand from Vasantha Akka!

I was so eagerly waiting for the letter from my mother. Though Vasantha Akka and I lived under the same roof, it was not that easy to meet her. Should some broker catch me receiving a letter from her, then that would be quits for contact with home.

Vasantha Akka’s husband was a mechanic. She had twins. Unless they both worked, it was hard for them to make both ends meet. Lying that she was going for work in some household, she would come here and get back home with the earnings. There were many women here like her. Had not Govind kidnapped me, I would have been happily studying.

As I was wool gathering, two people had come and left.  There was a great furore outside with cries and shouts. As I hurriedly dressed up and went out, I saw three people carrying Harika and laying her on a cot in the verandah! I ran up to her. She was lying lifeless. Wailing my heart out I enquired the girls flocked around. Mallika and Anuratha replied she committed suicide by hanging.

It was only yesterday she talked to me. She looked so depressed. I did not expect to see her this way by today. All of us were lost in grief.

 “Good riddance! Bloody bitch! For her grim-faced looks, we could make no business at all. It was just a waste of money to feed and shelter her.” A broker did not hide his hatred for Harika.

“Perhaps she committed suicide unable to put up with their cussings and atrocities,” mumbled Pallavi.

Blowing my nose, I said, “No! She did not die for that. She died out of depression.”

“That is what exactly we mean. She committed suicide after getting depressed for the way they treated her,” said Prasanna.

“Not for that,” said somebody.

 “Then what?” asked Shila.

“For the monotonous routine here every day”

“Why? Aren’t we all doing the same thing?” Gayatri reasoned.

“Do all of us have AIDS?  Besides, some girls slip into depression for continuing to do this day in and day out. It even prompts them to commit suicide. That is exactly what happened to Harika. Sometimes when a girl is locked up for four or five days and subjected to atrocity, she can get depressed. I saw such marks of horror in her face. But I never expected that it would drive her to this extreme step”

“Do you think these things won’t happen in family homes? For two years my husband and his friends spoiled me and then my husband sold me for 5 lakhs here. There is no law, there is no justice for us. Someday I too would commit suicide like Harika,” said Jyotsna breaking down as she narrated her story.

“Please compose yourself,” Madhuri tried to console her.

Unfortunately, you could not say more to pacify. Everybody else was sailing in the same boat. You can’t even say the hackneyed phraseology like “You have a great future ahead. You have to achieve a lot in life,” to console.

“That is why we should run off from here come what may!” I said with vengeance.

“Don’t you recall what they did with Radhika?  They brought her back, starved her for three days and sent forty people every day. She almost collapsed. Even while supposing that we could go home, do you expect that they would welcome us? What face have we to go home? If they come to know the diseases we are afflicted with, their hearts would fail,” said Sravanti.

 “My mother will certainly welcome me,” I said confidently drying my eyes.

There were peals of laughter all around.

 “I have faith in my mother,” I reiterated haughtily.

 “Well! If it happens, don’t you think we will be glad?” reassured Hasina.

*

All of a sudden we heard somebody shouting at Baby from the adjacent room. That being a routine matter and we having got immune to it we were lost in our conversation. But, suddenly I remembered that Baby was running temperature last night. That she was hardly six years was a bitter truth we could scarcely forget, and hence, it needed no special effort to remember. I immediately ran up to her. She was so weak that she could not stand on her feet. A broker was scolding using all his abusive vocabulary.

 “Please brother! It is not fair to ask the child to go even when she is suffering from fever.  Let her sleep. Let me go in her place.” I entreated.

“He doesn’t need old cows like you. He needs young calves like her. Get lost!”

“Brother! Please show mercy! Poor child! She is too young. Send Varsha instead if you like!” I entreated.

“Varsha? She has already matured. She is no alternative. Get out from here!”

What God should I pray for the miracle of saving Baby? Instead of watching the agony of a child suffering from fever, it seemed to better to rejoice at the death of thirty-year old Harika for her deliverance from this hell.

He sent Baby to the customer.

A wild animal won’t spare even a little mouse when it is hungry.

A starving vulture won’t think twice of an earthworm at hand.

A thirsty lion won’t hesitate to suck up even a tiny ant.

An esurient street dog makes no difference between a newborn and stale meat.

But a man seized with lust … is more cruel and violent.

Baby knew what was going to happen. She already underwent it. When I was seven, I used to play with snakes in the slum.  Poor Baby, she was bitten by cobras before she turned six.  My mind went blank. I was surreptitiously watching through the window.  He removed Baby’s frock and laid her on the bed. He might be in his forties.  I closely watched as his face seemed familiar. It was the same ‘reputed’ person whom I saw many times on the TV.

Baby was shivering with fever. She could not open her eyes. He got naked and lied on the bed hugging Baby. Damn it! Instead of watching this cruel truth, it seemed his white lies on TV were bearable to hear! He kissed the feverish skin of Baby everywhere. Lying down hugging for a while he sent her. Inadvertently I thanked that ‘fellow’ and put Baby to sleep administering her some medicine.

*

Vasantha Akka turned up only after twenty days. She came applying ointment to burns on her hand.

“What happened sis? Oh, me! Are they cigarette marks?” I asked anxiously.

“Yes.”

“What will you answer at home, then?” I asked innocently.

“She who can learn how to lie with, can also learn how to lie.”

We laughed together.

Describing in hushed tone how she planned to get me out of this place, she secretly slipped the letter from my mother into my hand. I did not expect mother to respond so quickly. I was determined not to meet the same fate as Harika and wanted to stand by my family.’  Wasting no time, I ran into the bathroom anxiously to read the letter.

*

“Dear Suchitra,

How are you my darling? Doctors advised blood-tests to father. He is not keeping good health.  With the money you sent, your brother eloped with some girl. Your sister was not permitted to sit for the examinations as her school fee was not paid.  She is now taking up tuitions at home. I sold out the sewing machine and part-paid interest on loans and with the rest I bought grocery and medicines for your father. You wrote that you wanted to get back home. I lost sleep over that since. What can I answer to the queries of the neighborhood? What is that you can earn doing sundry jobs? We can hardly have one square meal a day. We have to marry your sister off searching for a good boy. There are loans to repay and your father’s medical expenses to meet. The man who abducted you did help us all in a way. Please forgive us for our helplessness and stay put where you are. You promised to send fifteen thousand next month. Don’t forget.

I remain.

With love

Your mother”

With a heavy heart I closed the letter, tore it off and flushed it out.

Letter is such an hypocritical document that it sometimes prompts people to write “Dear”, “Darling” and “With love” etc … even when there was no trace of that feeling when they write.

I went in and came back with all the money I saved. I put it in the hands of Vasantha Akka and asked her to send it home.  It was a challenge to save the money in this palatial building. If anybody tried to hide the money in her blouse, it was as good as laying the money on the highway for everybody to try his hand at snatching as much as he could. That was why I shoved my money into the bed and sewed.

“What is the need to send money now? You are anyway going to your place next month?” asked Vasantha Akka.

 “No, sis. I am not going. I have decided to spend the rest of my life here…” I said looking vacuously up into sky.

Reading the feelings in my face, she could guess the contents of the letter.  Having accomplished her job for the day, she was homebound.

At the far end of the street she stopped and looked back at me. I was standing in the portico. She perhaps thought that I would construe those looks as looks of pity.  But, I knew that she had all the while been just fooling me around with the promise of helping me to get out of here. I also knew it was my mother who sold me off. But I entertained some faint little hope somewhere that mother would give me another chance if I could appeal to her motherly sentiments. That was the reason why I wrote to her that letter. But no. My letter did not touch her.

“Oh, mother! Had you thrown me onto a heap of garbage immediately after I was born, some stray dogs and pigs might have made a hearty meal of me.  But you sold me off to these human hounds. They are dressing me alive every day! You traded off all your labour of bringing me up … with my youth!

“This Suchitra is dead forever with that letter. The name will appear only in the letters to mother. It would never be heard, anymore. If I wish that my younger sister should not suffer the same fate as me, I must remain here… forever.”

“Pinky! Where are you? Come here. A customer is waiting for you.” Somebody shouted.

Holding the tears at the threshold of eyelids lest they should smear the eyes, I walked in determined never to get back…

*

Manasa Yendluri

Telugu,

Indian

(Telugu Original First Published in “Chinuku” Monthly Special Issue 2016)

Read the original here

 

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