A Flower Blossomed- Chalam

A Flower Blossomed

 Chalam

*

[They excelled in prose. Yet the two great short story-writer-cum-novelists, Fernando Pessoa (was also a renowned poet) of Portugal and William Faulkner of US, variously expressed their inability to write poetry: If Pessoa expressed that “I am incapable of writing in verse,” Faulkner said, “… the short story is the most demanding form after poetry.” If there is any comparable writer of their class in Telugu, it is certainly Gudipati Venkatachalam (19th May 1894 – 4th May 1979). For, Chalam’s aim, as the proverbial saying goes, was not the (meanness) to please, not the (mediocrity) to rise to the top but the (sublimity) to free himself (and the reader with him.)

Besides reflecting the lyrical quality of his prose, the present short story exemplifies how, unlike other contemporary writers, he not only thinks but also feels the subject at his heart.]

***

A flower blossomed in a forest at midnight. Watching the surrounding darkness, it was scared and called out, ‘Mother!’  The leaves and stalk cuddled it and reassured the small white floweret.

“Where is he?” 

“Who?”

“The one who brought me to you? – That person.”

“Who brought you to me? Nobody. It was me who brought you, my darling, my lovely, tender child, my pride. That is, you.”

“Oh, it was you? I thought it was somebody else. Was it you that held my hand and brought me laughing, playing, and floating with me through the stellar spaces? Then let me see you once!”

“Let the daybreak for you to see me. For the present have a nice sleep.”

“I am scared that I might fall down?”

“Don’t worry. Am I not holding you?”

“Mother! I am hungry!”

And soon to her delight some warm, nectarine milk oozed into the flower’s mouth.

A gentle wind cradled and rocked her in its lap.

“Mother! What is it that creeps behind my back?” she asked.

“Nothing to worry. It is a snake in search of food.”

“Will it eat me away?”

“Why would she? She is a nice one. It is only after birdlings. It won’t touch us.”

Behind the tall and lofty branches, the half-moon was trying to break onto the sky. The flower opened its eyes wide. The outlines of the leaves glistened. And through the empty spaces between the foliage, moonshine was filtering in gentle streams, sweeping off the darkness aside. Watching the woods around,

“Watch, mother! Watch!” the floweret clapped, unable to hold her pleasure.

The plant was singing lullabies with her eyes getting heavy with sleep.

The flower looked up towards her mother.

“Mother! You look so beautiful!”

Beyond her view, some twines entwined her in the darkness. Heavy with scents of flowers blossomed and wafting around them, the bowers rollicked to the wind in dark shadows.

“Mother! Who is it that you embraced and nestled? Who is he that stands tall bearing your weight?”

“It is your father!”

“Mother! Mother! What is that gibbering and whooping sound? Mother, hold me tight!”

“They are monkeys. They come for your father. Don’t worry. They won’t harm you.”

“What does father do, then, …”

Before she could complete her question, she heard somebody calling the young flower by name. Fairies gathered around her dancing and singing and floating in the moonlight. She knew them.

“So, you are born here?” – they surrounded the flower to give her the first post-natal bath. They have arranged a few elegant dimples on its petals. Decorated her with pearls of dew. But behind them, invisible to her, she saw someone standing in the shadows. Who was that? She knew who it was. For ages… she lost count of the times, innumerable forms, and different worlds… wasn’t he who shadowed her, held her hand firmly and walked through her pleasures and pains?

She heard a sweet calling through the darkness over her head. A wild calling for something unknown. And the leaves were all ears to the song. How many times ever she looked all around, she could not find out who it was.

“Mother! Mother! Who is it that calls?”

“A Cuckoo.”

“Calling whom?”

“His beloved.”

“Why doesn’t she come?”

“It is still dark.”

“Let him call again.”

“Wait! He will call again.”

“How beautiful is this world, mother! Where was I this long without coming here”

Opposite to the flower, right over the orient sky, another large, bright flower was blossoming spreading its brilliance all around. It was stretching its radiant hands towards the little flowers effortlessly through the teasing cloudlets trying to block it.

There were festivities, music, chirping and jocundity all around.

Some were offering prayers. Some were arranging festoons of leaves. Others were hailing his arrival.

They daubed each cloud with a different hue. They were running hither and thither unable to contain their ecstasy. Dusting and sweeping dry leaves off the floor to far off corners, the wind-lets were awakening all the world around. And all the trees were relishing their breakfast with gaping mouths.

Light, bright marvelous light pervaded the world to its limits. Surging and overwhelming in waves, it filled the cosmos with delight.

And the very look of the world had undergone tremendous transformation. The half-tablet-like-moon bade goodbye to the world dissolving into the brilliance of the sky. The morning star which ruled the world like an uncrowned king till then, cowered and hied to some corner out of fear. The shy cloudlets washed off their recent makeup and stood bashfully in pale white.

With blinding brilliance, red with anger, and an uncompromising and unforgiving attitude towards darkness, meanness and dirt, the Sun lorded over the worlds flooding them with his pristine resplendent rays.

Birds flew over the skies spanning their wings. The animals shed their inertia to begin their day. And the windlets nestled cozily in the cool shades of the leaves afraid of coming out into the open.

Into the eyes of the flower, which lost itself in the delight of watching the beautiful surroundings, sun darted a sharp ray.

“Oh, my!” swooned the flower maid shutting her eyes involuntarily. She shivered in fear and fainted for a moment. She blushed crimson all over. She was filled with some elixir that had sprung from the deepest depths of earth.

She shrieked, “M…o…t…h…e…r!”  But that was not a scream out of gloom, of delight, of fear of death or of birth. It was a signal of her coming of age.

And into her flowed all shades and hues of… a tender sunray, moonlight, the glister of the young blade of grass, the smooth bluishness of the sky, the strength of her father branch, the compassion in the voice of the cuckoo, the trivial mischievousness of the itinerant wind, and the essence of earth flowing through her mother plant.

There was some strange sheen in her petals, a strange swell in her veins, a sweet nectar ready to break through the stigma, and the sepals assuming vigour, and an endless, gratuitous flow of afterglow all through her body.

Suddenly, overwhelming her like the hightides of the sea, a sweet fragrance rolled over her, sending her into delirious rapture. The scents emanated from her body in torrents, and tongues of fire, whelmed her mother and the surrounding air, beside her own self.

She could not contain her pleasure and burst into laughter. And the laughter had endowed a graceful tint to the sun.

For that intoxication, for that sweet taste shouldn’t the sky come down to earth? Shouldn’t winds announce the news to all worlds? And shouldn’t all shades of light unite to light camphor as a mark of honor? Had not these trees, these birds, these insects, these animals, the immense sky, the Sun, and the Moon, and why, the entire world itself, existed just for the wealth of her fragrance?

Who could stand equal before her?

It gamboled on the branch. It clapped wildly. Radiated luminescence through her eyes. Whoever had passed by, giggled heartily hiding behind the screen of foliage. She flaunted her petals. And spread her scents over the world as if they were eternal.

Followed by a colony of honeybees and their accompanying music and dance, besot with flowery nectar and contemptuous ignorance of the existence of flowers beneath, but sprayed with pollen all over, a haughty Indian honeybee passed by exuding his lustful arrogance.

His black body peppered with pollen was glistening under the sun. Watching his cruel sting, inflaming eyes, and the spiky pointed antennae the flower was scared.

“Mother! Who is he?” she asked in a hushed tone hiding behind her drapery.

The plant caressed the daughter flower.

“He will not come your way,” she said with a naughty laugh.

“Won’t he? Huh! What arrogance!” she huffed peeping through the leaves and wafting a sudden draft of scent. The bee reeled under the sudden gush of scent on his face that suffocated him and depleted the strength of his wings.

“Mother! He stopped,” she complained in apprehension.

What is this sweet ache that does not let her stay cool and steady? What is that heady distressing agony, and a craving that both hurries and frightens which she was not able to discern?

The bee turned his attention towards the flower.

He ordered his followers to leave. They sprayed pollen on him once more before leaving. Making rounds around the neighboring leaves he was throwing mischievous smiles at the flowers.

He was flying towards her with an arrogance of invincibility. Glistening in the sun, floating and scissoring the wind he was approaching her.

She blushed all over.

Her pride, her superiority, and her swelling of heart had all ceased. She tried to hide deep into the foliage.

She was both happy and frightened by his sorties.

On occasions she was afraid that he might not turn up, and she was not a match for him.

And pride when he visited and a whelming bashfulness.

How come he could take such liberties?

Why was he delayed?

He should pay attention to nobody but me alone and sing praises and beseech me.

She should be beyond his reach and put him to sufferance by avoidance.

With gay abandon, he set aside the leaves and threw her to public view. Looking at him askance, she said, “You, cheat!” in mock anger. But ‘was it her own voice?’ she wondered. Where did that sweetness in the voice come from? What was that subtlety in the invitation? Why was her heart out of her control despite her best efforts?

Buzzing loudly and singing lyrics of love endlessly he was making rounds about the flower. As he stretched his forelegs towards the flower, the sun was reflecting in rainbow shades on his wing. And the strong smell of the pollen on his body had a giddying effect on her.

The song of the bee overwhelmed her like a high tide and preoccupied her thoughts… like the roaring sound of the sea, like blood pressure.

He was entreating, laughing, and prostrating before her. “I have been searching for you for eons. I surrender all my wealth at your feet. Just look at me once!” he said.

They were all lies. But how sweet were those white lies!

He said he was only craving her. But then, where did he get all the pollen spray on his skin? Cheat!

Flaunting her white petals for a moment, and smiling, she hid behind the leaves with the assistance of wind.

Why wasn’t he coming back to her, so weak and hiding so meekly behind the leaves? What was the delay for? Goodness! Wasn’t he turned away?

The creation signaled that amidst the host of flowers, this glistening flower was redundant. Petals lost their hue, turned pale, and shriveled. The anthers lost hold, leaned over the leaves, and died for the circulation of wind amongst the leaves. Turning all her attention to her womb, the flower lost sense of her beauty, self, and the world.

The flower did not notice when the sun had taken leave of the kites from the lofty tops of trees; or beat the retreat from the edge of the last cloudlet calling back home all hues; when the windlets called truce singing songs of peace and settled among the branches; when all the creatures that restlessly roamed around put a stop to all their businesses and called it a day; or, when the birds and monkeys settled in the thick foliage overhead for roosting.

And searching every nook and corner, stretching its tongues in thousands, darkness was licking off every trace of light.

Then, sliding down the ray of the first star that twinkled, he stood in front of the flower.

He called her by name.

“Who is that?” asked the flower. But she already knew who it was.

She quivered in fear. Looked about, weeping.

“Come with me!” he said.

“What about my child?” she tried to delay.

“Giving your life to your child, follow me,” he said with a smile.

“How can I come with you?” she cried.

He took her hands into his and drying her tears, he said,

“Look!”

The world was aglow… a smooth glow that dissolved all forms, and identities unto itself. From the dry leaves to the distant stars, uniting all creation and existence, pervaded a divine brilliance. And he was brilliant himself. He was seen here, there, and everywhere.

Feeding the hungry bellies, slivering the prey, hiding in the nook in darkness, serving the offspring with some drink, or killing, laughing, weeping, pouncing in anger, and rollicking with pleasure— he was seen, a la Proteus, assuming every conceivable form feeding and plying her own child with some drink.

“Follow me!” he asked the flower again.

She smiled. Her senility, her futility, and the consciousness of her withering had all dissolved in that smile. She surrendered her childhood, her youth, her vigor, her pleasures, her motherhood, her love at his feet and prayed.

Holding his hand, she took a leap into the limitless cosmos.

There was no more fear. No more concerns. No more apprehensions. He was a friend and a pal to the creation and time. Wherever he posits her in the vastness and in whatever form, nothing would look unfamiliar. There would be friendly hands stretching. There would be smiles in await. And great values would lie in wait for her arrival.

Floating in the firmament, looking into his face with all devotion, she burst into laughter- unable to contain her ecstatic pleasure.

***

Translator’s Note:

Though the bee described here is romanticized for the story, read about the true habit and habitat of honeybee here:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/honey-bee-job-queen-hive-animals#:~:text=A%20bee’s%20job%20is%20determined,for%20the%20opportunity%20to%20mate.

I thank the Editors of Saaranga for publishing the above story in their fortnightly issue of Jan 1, 2023

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