అనువాదలహరి

Lighting Fire under Her Feet… Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, Indian

[This is one of the most touching stories by Sri Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry.  In spite of my best efforts to the contrary, I could not contain my tears while reading and translating this story. It presents how pathetic the relations were between the kith and kin in Brahmin families not so long ago (I am not sure if they are different now); and more importantly, what a miserable life a child widow led, exploited by her own parents, siblings and others for the rest of her life…

The most interesting thing about the story is that it runs in a conversation style for the most part and without narration, the writer establishes each character… Translator]

***

“Instead of sitting idle like a log, why don’t you rub off some sandal paste? Have I to tell you every day?”

“Why? Elder brother-in-law had left yesterday itself. Who needs the sandal paste now?”

“Don’t you find somebody in this house fit to apply sandal paste on?”

“Then you should have told me in the same authoritative tone than satirically?

“Who else? It’s your father and mother. Should somebody make it explicit? Huh?”

“Otherwise, how can a person like me know?”  

“How silly? Didn’t such a simple thought strike your mind? Have they grown old to deny themselves of the luxury?

“……………….”

“You are accursed not to enjoy that luxury in this life. At least, to enjoy them in your next life you must have to serve married women with small favors like serving them sandal paste or making a garland of jasmines etc. Particularly, to your parents. Do you know what a supererogation it is?

“Did I ever see it or experience it to know what pleasure the sandal paste would give, to imagine how virtuous it would be to provide such pleasure to others? With all that, fate has ordained me like this. It is disconcerting to think how pleasurable life would be in the next life. Unable to take away this life on my own, I am pulling on like this. But, where is the guarantee that I will be born as human being in my coming life?

“That is true. How can a foolish person entertaining such useless thoughts can get a human life?”

“What blessing this life human has given me now? Had I been an animal or a bird it would have been better. At least I would have been spared this servile…”

“Who knows if you envied some happy couple? Deprived them of their pleasures or separated them. Otherwise, why should you suffer like this? When I advise you for your own good… is it for my sake I say this all?

“Who said that you are saying this all for your sake? But, withal that, to whosoever sake you might say, I can’t avoid this grind. Because you are so compassionate, you asked me prepare sandal paste for your daughter. Who finds fault with that? It did not strike me. But did I say I won’t prepare? Because you said very strictly and clearly, from now on I will prepare it every day.  Censure me the day I fail to do.  Can I lead my life like others just eating and doing nothing? Isn’t some strength left in my shoulders?

“Y…o…u….! You accursed face! After all I uttered a small word. What a rant you let lose? “

“…..”

“When you grieve to serve your own father mother, how can anybody expect you to serve others?”

“………….”

“After all, the few days your elder brother-in-law was here, willy-nilly you prepared the sandal paste and served him hot water for bath. That’s all. Did you do anything more than that? He is such a great Vedic Scholar, isn’t it serving him amounts to serving god”

“That knowledge serves people who are fortunate but not for people like me.  For a pathetic like me, there is no difference between God and a common man… ultimately, it makes little difference even if it were a devil.  I do whatever is asked from me and whatever I thought fit.  I spared no efforts to serve people and will continue to do so in future.”

“Do you think people will allow you to keep idle?”

“Are they allowing me now?  Nor did I ever crave for it? There is a milch animal in the back yard and me at home to serve all people…”

“You shameless creature! How can you compare yourself to an animal that breeds? How dare you entertain the idea of begetting children, you wretched corpse?

“……………..”

“You are indigence incarnate. How can luck embrace you?

“………”

“God knows what ill-fated moment you entered your mother’s womb, my mother barely escaped death; the moment you entered this world your father lost his job; …”

“No sooner had the boy tied the sacred knot, than he died the next moment. Say that as well. Why did you stop at that?”

“Y…o…u..! You tease me for not saying that? Poor fellow he would have been happily alive if he had not tied that knot. He was studying “Third form” at such a young age of sixteen. You can never imagine what big position he might have occupied by now in government service? And you hate him for being dead?”

“………………………..”

“Marrying you has turned out fatal for him.”

“………………………….”

“You set foot in her house, the poor mother, lost her only son.”

“…………………………..”

“Honestly speaking, the boy was lucky to be dead. Had he been alive, will you allow him to run the family? If he runs, will you feed him regularly? And if you feed regularly, will you allow him to sleep in piece?”

“‘And if you had allowed him to sleep in piece, you would have choked him to death in sleep. Say that as well.”

“What! What!! What!!! What did you prattle? How arrogant have you become?”

“………………………….”

“Why not? You can dare do that. Did you listen? You dare to do anything?”

“……………………………”

“You speak like that about the person who married you? One who is in heaven?

“For having married me, do you think he will blessed in Heaven?”

“True! So true! How cunning are you? Born to defame the family and accursed not to get any alimony…”

“Alimony? Why do I need alimony? What do I need money for? I am born to serve and I will serve who asks me to serve.  Having got service from me won’t they serve me a bowl of gruel to live? At least, in the interest of my services, won’t they?”

“So, do. You rot!”

“As there is no other way I do. Don’t you see how I am working?”

“Why don’t I see? I am seeing fairly well. Perhaps, you want me to go blind   like your paternal grandmother. That can never happen. People who speak ill of me will go blind. They will be ashamed… you are born and brought up by me. And now, do you dare me? I say how dare you? Can you live challenging me?”

“Do I value life to challenge you? So, be kind to eliminate me at the earliest. God will bless you.”

“What did you say? What did you brat? Do I drug people to death? How dare you blame me putting up such an innocent face, you young devil?

“………………………..”

“How arrogantly you move hither and thither, Pinjari?

“…………………………”

“Wait… Wait… wait your turn to die. By the time I get up taking a nap, if you don’t clean that red gram bag, blame me if I don’t mash you to death.”

“…………………”

2

“Hello young sister! I will ask you for a favor. Won’t you do that?”

“Do you need to ask me?”

“Then say, yes.”

“Where does the question of not doing arise? Am I doing all things that I do only after agreeing to do?”

“…. You have to stich a blouse with this cloth. That’s all.”

“OK…”

“Before they light the lamps in the evening. Understand?”

“Today? I can’t do it! I can do it by tomorrow evening.”

“What do you do today, after all?”

“Eldest sister has given me cloth after lunch to stich a long jacket for her daughter. After I complete the work on hand, I have to attend to that.”

“You don’t have to…”

“…Why? Why are you so envious?”

“… I don’t want you do it…”

“Did I say I will not do? It is your choice.”

“Should you say it explicitly? Besides, it is your will. If it were my will, can you postpone that?

“Having known that she had given the work before you, did you give a thought how elder sister would feel?”

“Why? Will she beat you for that?”

“…………………………………”

“Or, the auspicious time for marriage would pass for her daughter?”

“………………………………….”

“The fact is, you like elder sister more. Don’t I know that? Why don’t you speak up the fact instead of beating round the bush?

“You just speak whatever comes to your mind? Why don’t you think of me?

“What is there to think of you? You don’t have to cook?”

“That is far better. If you sit for cooking you can avoid so many other things under that excuse.”

“Even now, what is the work you have? Just cleaning a handful of red gram. Isn’t it?”

“….Are they just a handful?”

“Ok? They are not handful. They are after all 16 seers. Just that?”

“Do you know what the time it is?”

“It is 2 O’ clock.  You can finish it by 3. What will you do after that?”

“Can I finish this in one hour?”

“OK. You will finish it by 4. What will you do after that?”

“Who will prepare Sandalwood paste?”

“For whom? Elder brother-in-law had left yesterday itself?”

“For father and mother.”

“Did mother ask you to do it?”

“No. Grandmother.”

“What is this?”

“What is there for me to answer?”

“How can grandmother ask you…?”

“What is wrong with that? Fond of their daughters, mothers may sometimes order such things. They can even blame you for not doing things without being asked for.”

“Great! Then, it will take about half an hour. After that?”

“Half an hour?”

“Accepted that it will take one hour.  Then?”

“If I don’t get another commissioning by then, I will take up elder sister daughter’s…”

“… You are coming back to square one. You are utterly ignorant of dalliance! Your brother-in-law will be here in a day or two.  He gave it to me when he came here last month.  At least by the time he comes here…”

“Then why didn’t you give it to me this long?”

“I just remembered it now.  After all, it is one hour job. How long should I entreat you for this petty job? If you take it really serious, you can do it in half an hour…. Please stich me the blouse. You are my darling young sister. Aren’t you?

“Didn’t say I would stich?”

“No. I want my blouse first… OK?”

“It makes me no difference whichever work I take up first. Then, can you ensure the eldest is not angry with me?”

“…. Go to Hell! You always do something like this whenever I entrust you a job. You die for the eldest!  Both of you drown together! After all, to stich a simple thing like blouse you make such a fuss. Do you think I can’t do it myself? I just counted upon your help in this small matter. … OK.  Can you do it by tomorrow evening without fail?”

“……yes.”

“If possible complete it tomorrow morning itself. I want to visit the in-laws of Sodemma, donning the new sari. Don’t you think it matches well with that, dear sis?”

“I have to give a head-bath to the youngest sister and ready brother combing his hair.”

“How much time will it take?”

“What about attending to the cow shed?”

“Of course, you will anyway attend to that.”

“Then, who will milk the cows?”

“That’s part of your routine work. You put it on a dung cake fire; you churn the curd and take out butter; you attend to the laundry of father. After all they are very simple chores? What more work do you have?”

“Forget about them. I will take care of your work.”

“Promise me that will do it?”

“Does it mean I do things only if I promise and otherwise not?”

“What a beguiling person you are?”

“………………………..”

“How hard at heart you are!”

“………………………….”

“How many times I entreat I could not get an assurance from you. OK. Will you complete it at least by tomorrow evening?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Don’t forget.  Anyway, I shall sleep beside you after lunch. Because the summer has become too hot, I am getting sleep after lunch. You will complete it before I get up. Isn’t it?”

“……………………….”

“Your brother-in-law appreciates you so much. Once he gets a job, you can stay with us.  What do you say? Ok?”

“…………………….”

“Why don’t you reply?”

“What can I say? If I don’t stay with somebody or the other, how can I lead this life?”

“You wretched woman, how awfully you talk? Do I look so mean? Do you think I cannot attend to my chores without you? What do you think? We will engage a cook. We don’t need anybody’s help?”

“…………………….”

“Because you are my sister and you are poor I wanted to help. If you don’t do it by tomorrow see what I will do? I will complain to grandmother?”

“………………………”

“Oh! A stream of tears comes out for nothing. Nobody cares.”

“…………………………..”

3

“How far the long skirt… Why do you rub off the sandal paste?”

“To apply”

“Y… (O…).  For whom?”

“Mother and Fa…”

“From when?”

“Neither I know from when or how long, nor I need to know.  If you want you can ask grandmother…”

“Did she ask you to do it?”

“Yes.”

“…. OK. Why should I bother about it? At least, did you complete at least half of the long skirt I entrusted you?”

“I completed cutting.”

“Great! When I gave you at 11 am you could just complete cutting till now?”

“At least I could complete that much.”

“Want me to be happy for that? My job looks so silly and ridiculous to you?

“………………………..”

“Why do you look at me like that? If you get so piqued for what I say, why did you stop the work half way through?”

“Huh! For my wretched life, can I get angry with people?  I have to accept every damn work people entrust me. Otherwise…”

“Who has entrusted? And what work?”

“You did not even set foot out, 16 seers red gram basket was thrown at me.”

“So what?”

“Does it look so simple? After toiling hard somehow I could complete it. And now I am sitting here with this whetstone.”

“After this?”

“…………………………….”

“Just you whet the sandal wood few rounds and the bowl would be full. What will you do after that?”

“…. So far there is no other work than your daughter’s long skirt. If I don’t get any other assignment, I will attend to it.”

“Do it without fail. After all how much time will it take? After you finish the job, go upstairs secretly and sit there with that skirt. You can feel the cool wind of Godavari there.”

“I need not go upstairs for the air.  There is enough ‘wind’ wherever I sit.

“It is your choice. I just mentioned it for your comfort. All that I need is you complete the long skirt. By the way, what did the second sister gave you?”

“She wanted a blouse for her.”

“Why? Can’t she do it herself?”

“…………………”

“Will her lord be visiting soon?”

“……………………”

“Why? Should he entrust a job when I give you one?”

“…………………………..”

“So, you completed cutting for her blouse as well. Isn’t it?”

“…………………….”

“You don’t have to put such frightened look. Oh! Do you think I don’t know you?  You have a great liking for her. That is why you stopped my work half way through and took up her work.”

“Don’t talk like that … without verifying.”

“I don’t have to verify. I observed you a thousand times. Her insolence is for her husband studies English …. ; But, he will not complete BA for four years to come… that too if he does not fail in any subject. Your brother-in-law has told me many times. He also said there is no use without doing BA…”

“Do you care to hear what I say?”

“What more do you tell? Can’t I guess what you are going to tell? You always die for her. Don’t think that she would help you more than me…”

“……………………………..”

“You could not choose between a bambino and a lanky married sow”

“……………………………….”

“See how she looks at you! How expectantly she looks at you… with such fond hope that you would stich her a long skirt with the cloth brought by her father…!”

“What is the use my darling child! This wretched aunt! She is dead for long! … You are so sweet darling! How sweetly you run into me!  After all what am I before your mother? I will do it sweetie. I shall even miss my dinner to stich that skirt for you. Are you satisfied?”

“Children always hanker after those that love them. You did not realize it. But how sweet it would be to think my daughter is as good as yours. There are so many unfortunate people like you who lead their lives happily taking care of the children of their kin.”

“……………………….”

“I cannot talk sweet like your younger sister. You never know how much I love you. Why should I drum beat it? You just follow me to my house, and see if I don’t drive my sister-in-law out of my house? Don’t I put the management of my house in your hands?”

“……………………………”

“My heart melts when I think of the drudgery you do here. If you just take care of my daughter, shall I entrust you any work at my home?”

“…………………………”

“You see, Madhava Swamy temple is so near to our house. Every day you can attend to religious discourses. What more do you want? All that you need, after all, is two square meals and few hands-length of cloth. Shall I deprive you of that? In fact, your brother in law shall leave all the keys in your hands. If he goes on tour for one month, he will return with a load of coppers. You can do whatever you want or go wherever you want. Who can object you in my house?”

“………………..”

“Maybe, you are eager to go with your younger sister. She will not take you. She cannot suffer others’ presence in the house. Do you think she will feed you? Besides, what does she have? Other than those butler English words, where is the land for them? They have just 2 acres. That too, dry land. We have 10 acres of wet land abetting the tank. And one more thing. Her husband is a… You should not live in such a place.” 

“…………………………”

“You are grown up. You are not a child. Think twice before you make up your mind.”

“……………………….”

“Don’t tell young sister what all I said. She is such a brawling brat. She can’t do me anything. But, with all that…”

“……………………..”

“Promise that you won’t tell her?”

“Promise.”

“I will just make a visit to Sunderamma’s house once. After you finish the work in hand, you will complete my work before I return. OK?”

“………………………”

“Why don’t you answer me?”

“You just go.”

“(to her child) by the time we return, your aunt will stich the long skirt for you.  You will wear it to night and sleep with your darling aunt. OK?”

“……………….”

4

My God! You are here? What a woman you are!”

“Keep distance. Otherwise the sandal paste bowl will spill.”

“It won’t… OK I will stand aloof… OK?”

“Yes.”

“Can I help you?”

“Not necessary. With this round the bowl will be full to the brim.”

“Then, sister, please get up once.”

“Why?”

“I need your help.”

“What is that work?”

“It’s such a lovely work… a damn good deed…will you do it?”

“Tell me what it is?”

“Promise me that you would do.”

“Did I not ask you to say first what it is?”

“Do you do it if I say what it is?”

“If it is within my means, I will do it.”

“See… my mouth waters.”

“Did you buy something?”

“Where is the money to buy?”

“You should have asked mother.”

“I asked. And she was about to give.  But that bloody widow of grandmother did not …”

“No. No. No. You should not speak like that.”

“Then, can she dissuade people from giving? If only I had that money, our lunch game would have been better off.”

“Who are the people you are playing with?”

“Subbulu, Bachemma, Rajam and that dirty fellow Gaviri.”

“Chi! Chi!  Why are you becoming so abusive?”

“Then why should she come empty-handed?”

“What did others bring?”

“Subbu brought some coppers and fried peas. Buchemma brought some coppers and Groundnuts. Rajam brought a very big…slice of dry coconut.”

“So…”

“They asked me to bring some money and gur.”

“Why need you to buy? Ask mother. She will give you.”

“You give.”

“I should not give, my darling brother.”

“See…you back tracked? Sister, won’t you give?”

“Listen to me first. Stand far off. “

“Then I will start crying. Think of me.”

“……………”

“Else I start cursing you.”

“Do whatever you want. I cannot.  I am not supposed to give you.”

“Please sister! There is nobody in the kitchen.  Everyone is sitting in the front yard. The hasp is beyond my reach. Otherwise I would have taken it myself.”

“…..”

“I ask you finally? Are you going to give or not?”

“I cannot.”

“I ask you for the last three times… Won’t you? Won’t you? Won’t you?”

“……………………………”

“I ask for one last time more. Are you going to give it or not?”

“…………………………”

“OK. Don’t speak out.  I know how to punish you….”

“… God! She is running away with the sandal paste bowl? Shall I complain to mother?”

“Tell her. Tell her.  You want to complain against me to mother? Huh!”

“Oh my god!  She threw the bowlful of sandal paste onto the floor! All my effort has come to nought. Not a drop is useful.  God! What can I do?”

“Wail that way. Sink like that. Why? If you make me angry do you think I leave you quiet?”

“…………………………..”

5

“Rukku? What are you doing here?”

“I completed rubbing off sandal paste and readying myself to stich the long skirt for eldest sister’s daughter.”

“Is it so urgent?”

“Everyone deem their work is important. Only few minutes before, she went out huffing that her work was not completed.”

“Everyone will have some work to entrust if there is somebody available free. What will she do?”

“I did not ask her.”

“Don’t ask her. You put it somewhere and come with me.”

“Why?”

“I will tell you. First, you put it somewhere and come with me.”

“I will keep it aside, but first tell me what it is.”

“Your grandmother was log tired by the time she fried the red gram.”

“So?”

“Your father wants me to help him in his bath.  He wants nobody but me.”

“Then?”

“Grandmother says she can prepare something for her dinner tonight.”

“………………….”

“You have to cook the dinner.”

“…………………………..”

“Why do you look so aghast?”

“…………………………..”

“Only for this night. I will take care of tomorrow.”

“By the time I cleaned the red gram and prepared the sandal paste twice, mother, I am totally exhausted.”

“Why did you ask for the trouble? Why should you tease the little girl like that?”

“…………………………..”

“But, with all that, what is there for you to prepare for dinner? You neither have to grind with the stone pestle nor pound with a wooden pestle, but just sitting idle there.”

“…………………”

“Make mashed curry of banana with dal; prepare soup using Brinjal flakes, Drumsticks, slice of jackfruit and ladies fingers.”

“Why don’t you ask the eldest or the second sister to do it, mother?”

“Why should they do for us? Who knows if their husbands get angry if we ask them to do some small chores here? Or how their mothers-in-law taunt them?”

“…………………………..”

“They maintain their status and we have to maintain our status.  If we have the energy to do, we have to serve them well, otherwise, we should send them back. But we cannot ask them to do these chores.”

“………………………………..”

‘It is already six. Come on, get up. Don’t sit there. Your father wants an early dinner. Why don’t you throw that piece of cloth and get ready?”

“……………………….”

“By the way, you have to make mango chutney for the breakfast for children tomorrow morning. Ask grandmother how many mangoes you need.”

“……………”

 “I forgot to tell you.  There is not a piece of dry wood to put in the stove. Before it gets too dark climb up to the attic and select enough wooden chips for the next few days. Don’t forget.”

“…………………………”

“If grandmother wants to make a pancake for herself, break a coconut and cut the kernel to small pieces and give her. You have to make coconut chutney as well. Do you hear me?”

“……………………………..”

“Come on get up. Get up! There is no time left…”

“………….Ssss! Hey Lord Rama! Shall I have to lead the rest of my life like this?”

6

“Hey! Who is there in the kitchen?”

“It is me, younger brother!”

“You have to serve me dinner in one minute. I am in a hurry.”

“………………………”

“Why don’t you speak up?  I have to go to a cinema. It is already time up. Serve me dinner, quick.”

“If you are in such a hurry…”

“Urgent. Very urgent. You want me take out the dinner plate or want to serve in a banana leaf?

“What were you doing all the while?”

“Don’t you think I have to make arrangements for the money?”

“Is it the time to look for money?”

“I have been asking mother for the coppers since dawn.  Mother acceded to my request at last at three in the afternoon; but that bloody widow grandmother…”

“No. No. You should not say like that…”

“Do you think I will spare her if she spoils my cinema programme?”

“………………….”

“Why do you stand there still? What is the delay in serving me food?”

“I did not cook the rice yet, brother.”

“What are you doing all the while?  If I go for second show I cannot go to school tomorrow.  Why don’t you hurry up?”

“The water is yet to boil.”

 “Damn your cooking. What to do now?”

“Will you manage with morning rice?”

“…. OK. Serve that.”

“Ask either the eldest sister or the second one to serve you, then.”

“They said they were busy and won’t come.”

“What are they doing?”

“Second one is weaving a garland with jasmines; and, the eldest is playing “Pacchiis Pali” with Syamalamba of opposite house. You only have to serve.”

“But I can’t. I can’t touch it.”

“Then go to hell with your custom.”

“……………………………”

“Otherwise, wake up till eleven. I will take dinner after my return.”

“You ask grandmother if she would serve you. She will anyway has to take bath.”

“I don’t want.”

“Why?”

“I cannot digest if she serves me. She has such evil looks.”

“……………….”

“You have to keep me aside those jackfruit drumstick pieces for me. Otherwise I will not spare you. I will beat you black and blue.”

7

“Darling child! How come you are in the kitchen today?”

“Mother asked me to cook, father.”

“What is your eldest sister doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about the second?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about your grandmother?”

“……….”

(Mother-in-law): “So, all eyes turn to me at last! Nobody forgets my existence when it comes to doing householdwork. That is my fate. But tell me, son-in-law, when I was exhausted frying the 16 seers of Red gram and lying flat unable to move an inch from my place, do you think  I am left with energy to cook the dinner and serve you all?”

“How do I know what you did?”

“Not only this, you know not many things that happen in this house. You take your lunch. Go around the village and return by dinner time.  Otherwise you sleep. I am not able to attend to these chores.”

“What is your daughter doing?”

“Do you think she is sitting idle?”

“……………………………”

“Just that she won’t sit for cooking, but do you know who attends to all supporting chores?”

“………………………….”

“Besides, I have grown old and weak.  I am not able to attend to things as I did before.  You have to find an alternative to this.”

“I will send for the Family Doctor Brahmanandam tomorrow.”

“It is so ridiculous. I am having one foot in the grave. Why do I need a doctor now?”

“Forget about the work. Don’t you need to be healthy to eat and attend to your own work?”

“I am finding it hard to attend to the work, no doubt. But, what complaint I have?  I can attend to all supporting chores. Problem comes with cooking.”

“Then why don’t your daughter attend to cooking leaving supporting work to Rukkamma?”

“”Did I not tell you? Is it a small thing to attend to supporting chores? Besides, when there is a young widow at home, why should she attend to cooking?”

“…………………………”

“Is there such practice anywhere?”

“………………………..”

“Besides, poor girl, my daughter has developed distaste for food for the last fifteen days.”

“Then you put Rukkamma to cooking occasionally, but not regularly.”

“Then what about me?”

“I did not get you.”

“Why are you so ignorant? Do you want me to eat the food she cooks? I will be accursed.”

“…………….”

“When I have to sit here, anyway, for cooking, what is the use of her joining me?”

“…………………….”

“In what way she will be of help to me.”

“Then what do you want me to do?”

“Do I have to tell you so explicitly?”

“…………”

“Do you want me to believe that it did not strike you, really?”

“It did not strike me.”

“My god!”

“………”

“You have studied FA.”

“What is wrong if you tell me?”

“Then let me tell you. Rukkamma has no more dawns in her life. Whatever remains is just insignificant.”

“Then?”

“One day or other you have to do it. There is no use in delaying for long.”

“So what? …. What is your final suggestion?”

“Why does she need that long useless hair over her head? Neither can she comb it neatly nor can she plait it?”

(Father to Rukkamma)

“….darling child, why you are spilling the soup on the floor?”

“I am sorry father. The ladle is very hot and so my hand is shivering.”

(Mother-in-law)

“I have asked Ramadikshitulu a short while ago. He said the day after tomorrow is Dasami and very auspicious.  It is a matter of one minute if you take her to Kotilingala Revu.”

“……………………………”

“Unless you foresee the future it is useless.  These are not proper days for a young widow. Very recently they performed a widow marriage in the Viresalingam’s backyard. They are looking for four more widows for four grooms. They are performing marriages without caring for auspicious time or day. There is no point in regretting later.”

“She is not even seventeen?”

“So what? How does the age matter? Because she is not seventeen, you people should be all the more alert lest her thoughts go the wrong way.”

“……………………………..”

“Perhaps you are hesitating that she is your mother’s namesake. No use. It would be nothing short of playing with fire.”

“What does your daughter say?”

“Why? Do you need her opinion?”

“But still?”

“Can a mother speak up such things?”

“Then how can I say?”

“You are a man. Who can blame you? With all that, am I not here to get the thing done before dawn without giving a wind?”

(Father to Rukkamma)

“…. Darling child? Why did you spill the water so suddenly?”

“I am sorry father. Because my hand was greasy the goblet slipped out of my hand.”

(Mother-in-law)

“Did you see it for yourself?  Did you hear what she said? She can’t do a thing properly. Even the few things she does, she neither does systematically nor coolly. After getting used laziness, is it that easy to cook and serve?”

“………”

“Why don’t you say something?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“What do I want?  … Even if you want to keep quiet, do you think I keep quiet?”

“…………..”

“Day after tomorrow is Dasami, Wednesday. I am getting it done. This is my final intimation to you.”

“…………………………….”

“Did you hear me?”

“How can’t I hear when you are roaring in my ears?”

8

By the time Rukkamma reached for her bed it was well past 11 pm.

All the family sleeping in the open was in deep sleep.

The grand old lady was snoring as if she were fighting with the cats.

Rukkamma was so tired that she was not aware how she reached the place.  But once she reached that place, and having found that she was the only person awake among them all, could fully understand how helpless she was!

The lamp was burning bright like a chrysanthemum in all directions; but the home seemed to her a deep dark dungeon.

Her mind went blank. She could not make out what is what. Even if she could, she could not understand anything.  Even the little she could not understand, was not very sure and in no time she was getting perplexed and confused.

Unable to put up with her loneliness, she closed her eyes out of fear. 

That only worsened her condition.

From one side she found her second sister coming at her angrily holding the piece of jacket; from another side, she found her eldest sister grinding her teeth and holding the cloth for her baby’s long shirt; from the third, she found her grandmother coming towards her opening up her wide ghostly, half-edentulous mouth, holding a knife in her hands and a barber following her grinding the knife on the wheel, and on the fourth, she saw her father and mother in intimate position, rubbing their cheeks applying the sandal paste, she labored so hard to prepare, mixed with scent. 

Rukkamma could not suffer it anymore.

She could no longer sleep and sat up on the bed.

Unable to sit either, she stood up.

In no time she walked up to the foreyard. She opened the door and walked out into the street. She felt she was released from the jail.

There was electrical speed in her feet and a divine glow in her eyes.

Within a minute, in one go, she walked the streets of Innis pet like a finger on the map and by the time she assessed her location she was standing behind to the Choultry of Nalam’s.  She saw in front some people in front of Varada Rao’s hotel.

She was terrified.

One Jatkawala (Horse-cart man) who was sleeping under his cart blissfully smoking, observed her.

“Do you need a Jatka?” he asked

“………………….”

“Pay me only if I fly you to the place in no time like airplane”

“………………….”

“It is midnight. You are not sure whether you encounter snakes or scorpions on the way. I am not asking for a rupee or a half. Give me just a quarter.”

When there was no reply after all his offers, and having got confirmed his doubt, he got up and in a respectable and mild tone addressed her, “Daughter, where do you want to go?”

“Where do you live?” she asked him in a milder tone.

“Danavayi Gunta” he spoke as if he was speaking in her ears.

Her lips moved in such a way that they suggested, “What do you take?”

“You want to go to the grove of Pantulugaru?” he asked.

She nodded “yes” with her head overwhelmed by those words.

“I will take you there in a minute. Please get into the cart,” and he walked towards the cart.

“But I don’t have a penny with me,” she said and put few steps away from him.

“You don’t have to pay me anything, darling, if it were to the grove of Pantulugaru you go.” In no time he harnessed the horse and brought the cart upto her. Without a word she jumped into it and sat collecting herself.

The cart man flogged the whip.

Waiting till it picked up speed, he jumped into the cart.

“I have experienced, daughter, the good and bad times. I have only one daughter.  I married her off when she was a child. Within one month of her coming of age, before we could consummate the marriage… her husband died ten days ago. Whenever I think of her, or whenever I see her, my heart melts. As a man, if I look so frail, what to speak of her mother! She was so devastated that she developed aversion for food and became sick and bed-ridden. Unable to console my daughter on one side and unable to properly attend on my wife on the other I wanted to stop driving the cart for one month. But this is no other way than this to earn a living.

“The night before last two marriages were performed in the Grove of Pantulugaru. A third was performed yesterday. The fourth one might also been over. But, half the way, they stopped my cart and the father and brothers of the girl took her away back home.  I was so lost! Poor girl! How long she cherished the dream. What hardships she is now undergoing! What hardships she is going to face in the future! Believe me daughter, I feel so rattled.  They are looking for another girl.  The boy looks so charming like a prince. He earns sixty rupees per month. It is second marriage but poor boy, he is hardly twenty five. They say his father performed a Yajnam.  The moment you reach there, they perform the marriage, no doubt. You are so lucky. You need not fear. All your troubles become things of the past, daughter.  After ten days… after the grief subsides… I shall also…”

The horse cart sped like a cloud.

It has also taken the all-important turn.

*

Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry

(June 1935)  

2100th Post

Telugu:

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