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ఒక శిల్పి అంతిమ యాత్ర… విలా కేథర్, అమెరికను

 

లౌకిక అవసరాలకై వెంపర్లాట తప్ప మరొకటి తెలియని మనకి, దానికి అతీతమైన జీవితం ఉంటుందనీ, కొందరు దానికోసం తమ సర్వస్వం ధారపోస్తారనీ, ఈ లౌకిక విషయాలకి వాళ్ళు గుడ్డిగవ్వ విలువ ఇవ్వరనీ చాలా సున్నితంగా చెప్పిన కథ ఇది.

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కాన్సాస్ రాష్ట్రంలో అదొక చిన్న నగరం. అది శీతకాలం రాత్రి. ఆ ఊరిలోని కొందరు పౌరులు రైల్వే స్టేషనులో రైలింగుకి చేరబడి బండి కోసం ఎదురుచూస్తున్నారు. అప్పటికే అది రావడం 20 నిముషాలు ఆలస్యం అయింది. ప్రకృతిలోని అన్ని వస్తువులమీదా దట్టంగా మంచు పేరుకుంది. నిర్మలమైన ఆకాశంలో నక్షత్రాల మసక వెలుగు నేపధ్యంలో ఊరికి దక్షిణంగా, విశాలమైన తెల్లని మైదానమంతటా పరుచుకున్న ఎత్తైన కొండశిఖరాలు, ఏదో తెల్లనిపొగ వ్యాపిస్తున్నట్టు వంపులుతిరిగి ఉన్నాయి. నిరీక్షిస్తున్న పౌరులు కాసేపు కుడికాలు మీదా, మరికాసేపు ఎడమకాలిమీదా తమ బరువు మార్చుకుంటూ, చలికి తమ భుజాలు దగ్గరగా ముడుచుకుని, జేబుల్లో చేతులు పెట్టుకుని, చెవులదాకా కోటు కాలర్లు లాక్కుని ఉన్నారు. ఆగ్నేయ దిక్కున నదిగట్టుతోపాటే వంపులు తిరిగిన రైలుమార్గం వైపు మాటిమాటికీ చూస్తున్నారు. వాళ్లలో వాళ్లు నెమ్మదిగా మాటాడుకుంటూ, ఏంచెయ్యాలో తెలియక అసహనంగా అటూ ఇటూ కదులుతున్నారు. వాళ్లందరిలో ఒక వ్యక్తిమాత్రం అతనక్కడికి ఎందుకొచ్చాడో తెలిసినట్టు, అందరికంటే ప్రత్యేకంగా దూరంగా ప్లాట్ ఫారానికి ఆ చివరనుండి ఈ చివరివరకూ, తిరిగి స్టేషను ముఖద్వారం వరకు నడిచి, మళ్ళీ రైలు పట్టాల వైపు నడుస్తున్నాడు. బలిష్ఠమైన అతని భుజాలు ముందుకు వంచి, బరువుగా కాళ్ళీడ్చుకుంటూ నడుస్తున్నాడు. వెలిసిన సైనిక దుస్తుల్లో సన్నగా, పొడవుగా ఉన్న తలనెరసిన వ్యక్తి ఒకరు జనాల్ని తప్పించుకుని అతని దగ్గరకి వచ్చి గౌరవపురస్సరంగా నిలుచున్నాడు.

జాన్! రోజుకూడా రైలు ఆలస్యంగా వస్తున్నట్టుందే,” అన్నాడు మగవాళ్లకి అసహజమైన కీచుగొంతుకతో. “కారణం మంచుకురవడం కాదుగదా?” 

ఏమో, నాకు తెలీదు,” చిక్కగా పెరిగిన ఎర్రని గడ్దంలోంచి చెప్పాడతను. అతని గొంతుకలో కొద్దిపాటి విసుగు ధ్వనిస్తోంది.  

సన్నని వ్యక్తి అంతవరకు తను నములుతున్న పళ్ళుకుట్టుకునే పుల్లని నోట్లో ఒకవైపు నుండి రెండోవైపుకి మార్చుకున్నాడు. తనలో తను అనుకుంటున్నట్టుగా, “శవంతో పాటు తూర్పునుండి ఎవరూ వస్తారని అనుకోను,” అన్నాడు.

నాకు తెలియదు,” అన్నాడు రెండో వ్యక్తి మునపటికంటే మరింత కరకుగా.

అంతకీచు గొంతులోనూ కొంచెం మార్దవం తొణికిసలాడుతుంటే, సన్నపాటి వ్యక్తి “అతను మోతుబరుల కుటుంబానికీ చెందకపోవడం చాలా విచారకరం. నే నయితే అతనికి ఒక గౌరవప్రదమైన అంత్యక్రియలు ఏర్పాటు చేసి ఉండేవాడిని. కొంత పేరూ ప్రఖ్యాతీ ఉన్న వాళ్ళకి అలా చెయ్యడం సముచితం,” అన్నాడు. నోట్లోని పళ్ళుకుట్టుకునే పుల్లని బనీను జేబులో పెట్టుకున్నాడు. ఊర్లో జరిగే అన్ని పెద్దకుటుంబాల అంత్యక్రియల్లోనూ లాంఛనప్రాయమైన కుటుంబజండా పట్టుకోవడం అతని పని.

లావుపాటి వ్యక్తి సమాధానం చెప్పకుండా, వెనుతిరిగి రైలు మార్గాలు కలిసేచోటుకి వెళ్లిపోయాడు. సన్నపాటి వ్యక్తి తన గుంపులో కలిసి “ఎప్పటిలాగే జిమ్ చిరాగ్గా ఉన్నాడు,” అన్నాడు అతనివంక జాలిగా చూస్తూ.  

సరిగ్గా అదే సమయంలో దూరంనుండి రైలుకూత వినిపించింది. ప్లాట్ ఫారం మీద అడుగుల కోలాహలం మొదలయింది. ఉరుము శబ్దానికి ఉలిక్కిపడ్దవాళ్లలా సన్నగా పొడవుగా ఉన్న అన్నివయసుల కుర్రవాళ్ళూ ఒక్కసారి ప్లాట్ ఫారం మీద గుమిగూడారు. అందులో కొందరు ఇంతసేపూ విశ్రాంతి గదుల్లో వెచ్చగా చలికాచుకుంటే, కొందరు సగం నిద్రలో పరిగెత్తుకుని వచ్చిన వారు; కొందరు సామాన్ల లారీల్లోంచి బద్ధకం వదిలించుకుని వస్తే, కొందరు ఎక్స్ ప్రెస్ రైళ్లలో వచ్చిన వారు. అక్కడి రైలింగుకి ఆన్చి నిలబెట్టిన శవవాహనంలోంచి డ్రైవరు సీటునుండి ఇద్దరు క్రిందకి దూకేరు. భుజాల్ని సరి చేసుకుని తలెత్తి నిలబడ్డారు. అంత చలిలో, అందరినీ హెచ్చరిస్తూ రైలు వేస్తున్న కూతకి లిప్తపాటు పాలిపోయిన వాళ్ళ కళ్ళల్లో ప్రాణం లేచివచ్చింది.

 

ఆ రాత్రి ఎక్స్ ప్రెస్, ఎర్రని రాకెట్టులా తూరుపుదిక్కునున్న చిత్తడినేలల మధ్యనుండి, నదివొంపులతోపాటు వొంపులు తిరుగుతూ వస్తోంది. చిత్తడినేలలకి పహరా కాస్తున్నట్టున్న వరుసల పోప్లార్ చెట్లు, చలికి వణుకుతున్నట్టున్నాయి. వాటి క్రిందనుండి దూకివస్తూ రైలు వదులుతున్న నీటిఆవిరి ఆకాశానికి ఎగబ్రాకి నీలి మేఘంగా ఘనీభవించి పాలపుంతని కనుమరుగుచేస్తోంది. అంతలోనే, కళ్ళుమిరుమిట్లుగొలిపే రైలుబండి ఎర్రని హెడ్ లైటు వెలుగు వేడికి రైలుపట్టాలని కప్పిన మంచు కరిగి, నల్లని రైలుపట్టాలు మెరుస్తున్నాయి. చెదిరిన తన పొడవాటి దట్టమైన గడ్డంతో ప్లాట్ లావుపాటి వ్యక్తి పారం వైపు గబగబా రైలు ఆగే వైపుకి నడుచుకు వస్తున్నాడు తలకిచుట్టుకున్న కప్పు తొలగించుకుంటూ.  అతని వెనుకనున్న గుంపు కాసేపు తటపటాయించి, ఒకరి ముఖాలు ఒకరు ప్రశ్నార్థకంగా చూసుకుని, అతని వెనుకే నడవసాగేరు. రైలు ఆగింది. తలుపులు తెరుచుకోవడం ఆలస్యం అందరూ రైలువైపు పరిగెత్తారు. అంత్యక్రియల దుస్తుల్లో ఉన్న సన్నటి వ్యక్తి కుతూహలంగా బండిలోకి తొంగిచూడసాగేడు. ఆ కోచ్ నిర్వాహకుడు  తలుపు దగ్గరకి  పొడవైన గౌనూ, టోపీ ధరించిన మరొక యువకుణ్ణి అతనితోపాటే వెంటపెట్టుకుని వచ్చేడు.

ఆ యువకుడు, “మెరిక్ స్నేహితులు మీరేనా?” అంటూ అక్కడ చేరుకున్న గుంపుని ఉద్దేశించి అడిగేడు.

 

ప్లాట్ ఫారం మీద ఉన్న గుంపు పక్కకి అసౌకర్యంగా అటూ ఇటూ కదిలింది. ఇంతలో ఫిలిప్ ఫెల్ప్స్ అన్న బ్యాంకు ఉద్యోగి ముందుకి వచ్చి, హుందాగా ఇలా అన్నాడు:

“మెరిక్ తండ్రి చాలా నీరసంగా కదలలేని పరిస్థితిలో ఉండబట్టి శవాన్ని తీసుకుపోడానికి మేము వచ్చాము,” అని.

“అయితే అతన్ని లోనికి రానీండి,” అని కసురుకుంటూ కోచ్ నిర్వాహకుడు, “అతనికి సాయం చెయ్యమని ఆపరేటర్ కి చెప్పండి,” అన్నాడు.  

మంచు కురుస్తున్న ఆ ప్లాట్ ఫారం మీదకి మొత్తానికి ఎలాగైతేనేం శవపేటిక దింపడం జరిగింది. ఆ ఊరి ప్రజలు దానికి తగినంత జాగా ఉండేలా వెనక్కి జరిగేరు. తర్వాత ఆ శవపేటిక చుట్టూ అర్థచంద్రాకారంలో గుమిగూడారు. ఆ శవపేటిక నల్లని పైకప్పుమీదనున్న తాటాకువంక వింతగా చూడసాగేరు. ఎవ్వరూ ఏమీ మాటాడలేదు. పెట్టెలు మోసేవాడొకడు ఒక రైలుపెట్టె పక్కన బేరంకోసం ఎదురుచూస్తూ నిలుచున్నాడు. ఇంజను ఒక్కసారి గట్టిగా నిట్టూర్పు విడిచింది. ఇంజనులో బొగ్గువేసేవ్యక్తి తన పసుపుపచ్చని టార్చిలైటూ, పొడవాటి ఆయిలు కేన్ తో క్రిందకి దిగి ఇరుసుల్లో కందెన వేస్తున్నాడు. మరణించిన శిల్పి శిష్యుడూ, శవంతోపాటే ప్రయాణించిన బోస్టనుకి చెందిన యువకుడు అతనివంక నిస్సహాయంగా చూస్తూ నిలుచున్నాడు. అక్కడి గుంపులో భుజాలు వేలేసుకుని, మాసినదుస్తుల్లో, అసహనంగా కదులుతున్న ఆ బ్యాంకరు ఒక్కడే మాటాడడానికి యోగ్యుడుగా కనిపించాడు. అతనివైపు తిరిగి: 

“మెరిక్ అన్నదమ్ముల్లో ఒక్కరూ ఇక్కడలేరా?” అని అడిగేడు.

మొదటిసారిగా ఆ ఎర్రగడ్డం వ్యక్తి త్వరగా నడుచుకుంటూ గుంపుముందుకి వచ్చి “లేదు, వాళ్ళెవరూ రాలేదు. అందరూ తలో దిక్కూ ఉన్నారు. మేమే ఈ శవాన్ని అతని ఇంటికి తిన్నగా తీసుకుపోతాం,” అని అన్నాడు.  అని ఒంగి శవపేటికకి ఉన్న చేతిపిడి ఒకటి అందుకున్నాడు.

అంత్యక్రియల నిర్వాహకుడు శవవాహిక తలుపు వేస్తుంటే, చోదకుడిని ఉద్దేశిస్తూ గ్రామ నౌకరు “థామ్సన్!దూరమైనా కొండరోడ్డు వెంబడే ఇంటికి పద. గుర్రాలకి సుళువుగా ఉంటుంది,” అన్నాడు.

ఎర్రగడ్దపు లాయరు, జిమ్ లైర్డ్, ఆ కొత్త వ్యక్తివంక చూస్తూ, “ఈ శవవాహిక వెనుక ఎవరు నడుస్తారో తెలియదు. చాలా దూరం ప్రయాణం, కాబట్టి మీరు అద్దెకు తెచ్చిన ఆ గుర్రం ఎక్కితే మంచిది,” అంటూ బాగా చిక్కిపోయిన గుర్రాన్ని చూపించాడు. ఆ యువకుడు వెంటనే, “కృతజ్ఞతలు. కానీ నేను శవ పేటికతోనే ప్రయాణిస్తాను.” అంటూ, అంత్యక్రియల నిర్వాహకుడివైపు తిరిగి, “మీకు అభ్యంతరం లేకపొతే, నేను మీ పక్కన కూర్చుంటాను,” అన్నాడు.

 అంటూ, బండిచక్రాలమీంచి ఎక్కి కూచున్నాడు.

చుక్కల వెలుగులో, దూరమార్గంలో, తెల్లని కొండచుట్టూ ప్రదక్షిణం చేస్తూ వాళ్ళు ఊరికి ప్రయాణమయ్యారు. నిశ్శబ్దంగా ఉన్న ఆ ఊళ్ళో, ఇళ్ళ కప్పులమీద మంచు పేరుకుంది. బాగా క్రిందకివాలిన చూరులనుండి దీపాలు మిణుకు మిణుకుమంటున్నాయి; కనుచూపుమేర అన్నిదిక్కులా విశాలమైన మైదానం శూన్యంలోకి చొచ్చుకుపోయి, అనుభూతికి అందే స్వచ్ఛమైన నీరవంలో మునిగి ఆకాశమంత నునుపుగా, ప్రశాంతంగా కనిపిస్తోంది.

కళావిహీనంగా, ఎండకి ఎండి వానకి తడిసి కేవలం ఆకారమాత్రంగా నిలిచి ఉంది ఆ ఇల్లు. ఆ ఇంటికి ఆనుకుని ఉన్న కాలిబాటప్రక్కకి శవ వాహనం చేరుకోగానే, ఇంతకుముందు రైలుస్టేషనులో గుమిగూడిన ఇలా ఉంటారని చెప్పలేని సమూహమే, మరొకసారి గేటుదగ్గర గుమిగూడింది. మంచూ-బురద పేరుకున్న ముందరివాకిట్లో, గేటునుండి ఇంటి ముఖద్వారం వరకూ వెళ్ళడానికి వీలుగా వేసిన ఒకటి రెండు బల్లలు బాగా వొంగిపోయి, కూలడానికి సిద్ధంగా ఉన్న వంతెనలా ఉన్నాయి. ఉన్న రెండు బందుల్లో ఒకటి ఊడి, గేటు ఆ ఉన్న ఒక్క బందుకీ అతికష్టం మీద వేలాడుతోంది. శవంతోపాటే వచ్చిన యువకుడు స్టీవెన్స్, ముఖద్వారానికి ఉన్న గుబ్బకి ఒక నల్లటి గుడ్డ కప్పి ఉండడం గమనించాడు.

వాహనంనుండి దింపుతున్నప్పుడు శవపేటికచేసిన కిర్రుమన్న శబ్దానికి ఇంట్లోంచి ఒక్కసారిగా ఏడుపులు వినిపించాయి; ముందరి తలుపు కష్టపడి తెరుస్తూ, లావుగా, పొడవుగా ఉన్న ఒక స్త్రీ తలకి ఏ తొడుగూలేకుండా మంచులో పరిగెత్తుకుంటూ వచ్చి శవంమీదపడి రోదించసాగింది, “అయ్యో కొడుకా! ఇలా వచ్చావురా నా దగ్గరికి!” అంటూ.

చెప్పలేని వెగటుతో స్టీవెన్స్ ముఖం అటుతిప్పుకుని కళ్ళుమూసుకోగానే, పొడవుగా బక్క చిక్కిన మరొక స్త్రీ నల్లని దుస్తుల్లో బయటకి పరిగెత్తుకుంటూ వచ్చి, తల్లి భుజాలుపట్టుకుని, ఏడుస్తూనే, “అమ్మా! లోపలికి పద! నువ్విలా బయటకి రాకూడదు!” అంటూ, వెంటనే బ్యాంకరు వైపు తిరిగి, గొంతుమార్చి, అతివినయంగా, “ఫెల్ప్స్! చావడి సిద్ధంగా ఉంది!” అంది.

అంత్యక్రియల నిర్వాహకుడు శవపేటిక ఉంచడానికి కావలసిన సామగ్రితో ముందు నడుస్తుంటే, శవవాహకులు ఆ సన్నని బల్లచెక్కలమీదనుండి శవపేటికని మోసుకుని లోనికి తెచ్చేరు.

 

శవాన్ని దించిన గది వాడుకలోలేక, చల్లగా, చెమ్మగా, అక్కడ పడేసిన కర్రసామాను ముక్కవాసన వాసన వేస్తూ ఉంది. శవపేటికకి పైన గలగలలాడుతున్న గాజుపట్టకాలతో అలంకరించిన దీపం ఉంది. అక్కడ జాన్ రోజర్స్ కర్రతో చెక్కిన జాన్ ఆల్డెన్, ప్రిసిలాల బొమ్మలకి కొండతామర (స్మిలాక్స్) దండలు వేలాడుతున్నాయి. హెన్రీ స్టీవెన్స్ తనేదో పెద్దపొరపాటు చేసినట్టూ, రాకూడనిచోటుకి వచ్చేనేమోనన్నట్టు ముఖంపెట్టాడు. అక్కడున్న ఆకుపచ్చని బ్రసెల్స్ నీ, కిటికీలు, ద్వారబంధాలూ అలంకరించుకునే లావుగా మెత్తగా ఉన్న మొఖమల్ అలంకరణలనీ, చేతితో రంగులువేసిన చైనా పాత్రలూ, పూల కలశలూ, బల్లచెక్కలనీ పరీక్షగా చూశాడు హార్వే మెరిక్ కి చెందిన వస్తువేదైనా పోల్చుకుందికి ఎక్కడైనా కనిపిస్తుందేమోనని. పియానోమీద వేలాడుతున్న వర్ణచిత్రంలో ఉంగరాలజుత్తుతో, మొలకి అంగవస్త్రం ఉన్న కుర్రవాడిలో తనమిత్రుడి పోలికలు కనిపించేదాకా ఎవరినీ శవం దరిదాపులకికూడా అనుమతించడానికి ఇష్టపడలేదు.

“థామ్సన్! మూత తెరూ! కుర్రాడి ముఖం చూడనీ,” అంది పెద్దామె ఒకప్రక్క వెక్కివెక్కి ఏడుస్తూనే. ఒత్తుగా నల్లగా మెరుస్తున్న ఆమె తలకట్టు క్రింద ఎర్రగా ఉబ్బిపోయిన ఆమె ముఖంలోకి ఈ సారి స్టీవెన్స్ భయపడుతూ భయపడుతూ చూస్తూ, ఏడుపు నిగ్రహించుకోమని అనునయిస్తున్న ధోరణిలో చూశాడు. అలా చూసినందుకు వెంటనే సిగ్గుపడిపోయి, మరొకసారి ఆమె ముఖంలోకి చూశాడు. ఆమె ముఖంలో ఏదో చెప్పలేని శక్తి కనిపించింది… అది ఆటవిక సౌందర్యం వల్ల కావొచ్చు; కానీ, ఆ ముఖం హింసవల్ల ఏర్పడిన గాయాలమచ్చలతో, ముడతలుబడి, భయంకరమైన వీరావేశాలవల్ల కళమారి ఎంత కరకుగా తయారైందంటే, విషాదం ఆమె దరిదాపుల్లోకి రావడానికి జంకుతుందేమోనని అనిపించింది అతనికి.  వాచిన ఆమె పొడవాటి ముక్కు చివర ఉబ్బి, దానికి అటూ ఇటూ లోతుగా చారలుఏర్పడ్డాయి; దట్టమైన నల్లని కనుబొమలు నుదిటికి అడ్దంగానూ, ఒకదానికీ మరొకదానికీ మధ్య బోలెడు ఖాళీతోనలుపలకలుగా ఉన్న ఆమె పెద్ద పలువరస చీరేసినట్టు ఉంది. ఆమె ఆ గదినంతా ఆక్రమించి ఉంది.  ఆమె ముందు ఏమాత్రం ఆనక, ఉధృతంగా ప్రవహిస్తున్న వరదనీటిమీద కొట్టుకొచ్చే కర్రాకంపా లా మగవాళ్ళు ఉన్నారు. స్టీవెన్స్ కి, తను కూడా ఆ సుడిగుండంలో చిక్కుకున్నానేమోనన్న అనుమానం వచ్చింది.  

నొక్కులజుత్తుతో, సన్నగా ఎముకలబోనులా ఉన్న కూతురు తలలో విషాదసూచనగా దువ్వెన ఉంది.  అప్పటికే పొడుగ్గా ఉన్న ఆమె ముఖం ఇప్పుడు మరింత పొడవుగా కనిపిస్తోంది. ఆమె చేతివేళ్ళ కణుపులు కొట్టొచ్చినట్టు కనిపిస్తున్నాయి. చేతుల్ని ఒళ్ళో మడిచిపెట్టుకుని, కళ్ళూ ముఖమూ క్రిందకి వాల్చి శవపేటిక ఎప్పుడు తెరుస్తారా అని ఆమె ఎదురుచూస్తోంది. చూడడానికి సేవకురాలిలా కనిపిసున్న ఒక సంకరజాతి స్త్రీ, తలుపు ప్రక్కన భయంతో ఒదిగి నిలబడింది. వాడిపోయిన ఆమె ముఖంలో విషాదం, మృతుడిపట్ల అభిమానం కనిపిస్తున్నాయి. ఆమె తను ధరించిన పైతొడుగుతో కళ్ళు ఒత్తుకుంటూ, అప్పుడప్పుడు గట్టిగా వచ్చే వెక్కిళ్ళను అతిప్రయత్నం మీద దిగమింగుకుంటూ మౌనంగా రోదిస్తోంది. స్టీవెన్స్ లేచి ఆమె ప్రక్కన నిలుచున్నాడు.

మెట్లమీద సన్నని అడుగుల చప్పుడు వినిపించింది. పొడుగ్గా, బలహీనంగా ఉన్న ఒక వయసుడిగిన వ్యక్తి మూతిమీద చారికలతో, పొగాకు కంపుకొడుతూ, మాసిన గడ్డం, చిదరవందర జుత్తుతో అడుగులు తడబడుతూ గదిలోకి ప్రవేశించాడు. చేతిలో రుమాలు నలుపుకుంటూ, శవపేటిక దగ్గరకి నెమ్మదిగా నడిచేడు. భార్య రోదనకి ఒక పక్క బాధపడుతూనే, మరొక ప్రక్క మరేదీ పట్టించుకోనందుకు సిగ్గుపడుతున్నట్టు కనిపిస్తున్నాడు. 

“ఏనీ! అదే వద్దంటున్నాను, కాస్త తెమ్మరిల్లు,” అన్నాడు, గొంతు కంపిస్తుంటే, వణుకుతున్న చేతిని ఆమెభుజం మీద నిలకడగా ఉంచడానికి అవస్థపడుతూ. ఆమె మరొకసారి ఏడుపులంకించుకుని ఒక్క ఉదుటున అతని భుజం మీదకి ఎలా వాలిందంటే, అతను తనని నిభాయించుకుందికి కష్టపడ్డాడు. అతను కనీసం శవం వంక కన్నెత్తయినా చూడలేదు.  కొరడావంక చూస్తున్న కుక్కలా, ఆమె వంకే బెదురుతో, బ్రతిమాలుతూ చూడసాగేడు. సాగిపోయిన అతని బుగ్గలు భరించలేని సిగ్గుతో ఎరుపెక్కాయి. ఆతని భార్య ఆ గదిలోంచి నిష్క్రమించగానే, లాయరు స్టీవెన్స్ నీ, తండ్రినీ వాళ్ల ఖర్మకి వాళ్లని వదిలేసి కూతురుకూడా ఆమె వెనుకే నడిచింది. సేవకురాలు శవపేటికదాకా నడిచి, క్షణం సేపు వొంగి చూసి వెంటనే వంటింట్లోకి నిష్క్రమించింది.

ఆ ముసలాయన చనిపోయిన కొడుకు ముఖంలోకి తలవాల్చి, కళవళముతో చూస్తున్నాడు. ఆ శిల్పి పెద్ద తల, బ్రతికున్నప్పటికంటే, కదలకుండా నిటారుగా ఉన్నప్పుడే ఇంకా గొప్పగా ఉన్నట్టు అనిపించింది అతనికి. విశాలమైన అతని నుదురుమీదకి నల్లని ముంగురులు వాలి ఉన్నాయి. చిత్రంగా అతని ముఖం కోలగా ఉన్నట్టు అనిపించింది. కానీ అందులో మృతుల ముఖాల్లో కనిపించే నిష్కల్మషమైన ప్రశాంతత లోపించింది. కనుబొమలు ఎంతగా చిట్లించినట్టు ఉన్నాయంటే, సూటిగా ఉన్న ముక్కుపైన, నుదిటిమీద అవి రెండు గీతలు గీశాయి. గడ్డం నిర్లక్ష్యంగా ముందుకి చొచ్చుకొచ్చింది. జీవితం ఎంత చేదుగా, పదునుగా ఉంటుందంటే మృత్యువుకూడా వెంటనే ఒత్తిడిని రూపుమాపి పరిపూర్ణమైన ప్రశాంతత చేకూర్చలేదేమోనని సూచిస్తున్నట్టు ఉంది.   పవిత్రమైనదీ, విలువైనదేదో అతను భద్రంగా కాపుకాస్తున్నట్టూ, దాన్ని అతని దగ్గరనుండి లాక్కుంటారేమోనని బెంగపడుతున్నట్టూ ఉంది అతని ముఖం.

మాసిన గడ్డం మాటున ఆ వృద్ధుడి పెదాలు వణుకుతున్నాయి. అతను లాయరువంక తిరిగి భయం భయంగా అడిగేడు “జిమ్! నీకు ఎన్ని కృతజ్ఞతలు చెప్పినా చాలదు. ఫెల్ప్స్, తక్కిన వాళ్ళు అందరూ హార్వేని ఖననం చెయ్యడానికి వస్తారు, కదూ?” అని. కొడుకు నుదిటిమీది ముంగురులు చేత్తో సవరిస్తూ, “జిమ్! వీడు చాలా మంచికుర్రాడు. అందరిలోనూ వీడే పసిపిల్లాడంత నెమ్మదస్తుడు.  కానీ, మేమే వాడిని అర్థం చేసుకోలేకపోయాం.”  అతని కన్నీళ్ళు గడ్డంమీంచి జారి శిల్పి తొడుక్కున కోటుమీద పడ్డాయి.

“మార్టిన్! మార్టిన్! ఓ మార్టిన్, ఇలా రా!”  అతని భార్య మెట్లమీంచే గట్టిగా అరిచింది.  ఆ వృద్ధుడు వెంటనే భయంగా లేస్తూ, “హాఁ! ఏనీ! ఇదిగో వస్తున్నా!” అతను వెనుదిరిగి, కాసేపు తటపటాయించి, ఎటూ తేల్చుకోలేని భయంకరమైన సందిగ్ధంలో కొట్టుమిట్టాడేడు; చివరకి, వెనక్కి వచ్చి మృతుడి జుత్తు మెత్తగా సవరించి, గదిలోంచి నిష్క్రమించాడు.

“పాపం, ముసలాయన! అతనికి కన్నీళ్ళు ఇంకా మిగిలి ఉంటాయని అనుకోను. ఆకళ్ళు ఏనాడో ఎండిపోయినట్టున్నాయి. ఈ వయసులో ఇంతకంటే బాధించేది మరోటి ఉండదు,” అన్నాడు లాయరు జాలిగా.

జిమ్ అతని గడ్దమంత ఎర్రగా ఉన్నాడు. నీలిమంటతో మండుతున్న చింతనిప్పుల్లా ఎర్రగా ఉన్నాయి అతని కళ్ళు. తాగుడువల్ల అతని ముఖం ఉబ్బిపోయి ఉంది. అతికష్టం మీద తనని తాను నిగ్రహించుకుంటున్న బాధ అతని ముఖంలో స్పష్టంగా తెలుస్తోంది; చెప్పలేని అసహనంతో మృతుడి గడ్డాన్ని సవరిస్తూనే ఉన్నాడు. కళ్ళలోకి ఇబ్బందిగా పడుతున్న దీపం వత్తిని జిమ్ తగ్గించడం, దానికి వేలాడుతున్న గాజు పట్టకాలు చేస్తున్న గలగలలకి చిరాకుతో అటు తీక్షణంగా చూడడం, కిటికీ ప్రక్క కూచున్న స్టీవెన్స్ గమనించాడు. తర్వాత అతను చేతులు వెనక్కి కట్టుకుని, అతని గురువు ముఖంలోకి తదేకంగా చూడడమూ గమనించాడు. స్టీవెన్స్ వాళ్ళిద్దరికీ మధ్య సంబంధం ఏమై ఉంటుందా అని ఆలోచించసాగేడు.

ఇంతలో వంటింట్లోంచి కేకలు వినిపించసాగేయి; భోజనాలగది తలుపు తెరవగానే, ఆ గోల వెనక కారణం అవగతమయింది. అతిథులకోసం చేసిన సాలడ్ మీద డ్రసింగ్ సరిగ్గా చేయనందుకు యజమానురాలు సేవకురాలిమీద గొంతు చించుకుంటోంది. స్టీవెన్స్ తన జీవితంలో ఇలాంటిది ఎన్నడూ విని ఉండలేదు. ఆ తిట్లు మానసికంగా హింసించడంతోబాటు, చాలా నాటకీయంగా, క్రౌర్యానికి పరాకాష్ఠగా ఉన్నాయి. కేవలం ఇరవై నిముషాల క్రితం ఆమె ప్రదర్శించిన ఆపుకోలేని దుఃఖానికి ఇది పూర్తిగా విరుద్ధంగా ఉంది. ఆ క్రూరత్వంచూసి ఒళ్ళు గగుర్పొడిచి, లాయరు వంటింట్లోకి తెరుచుకుంటున్న భోజనాలగది తలుపులు మూసేసేడు.    

వెనక్కి తిరిగి వచ్చి, “పాపం, రాక్సీ! బలయిపోతోంది,” అన్నాడు.  మెరిక్ కుటుంబం చాలా ఏళ్ళక్రితం ఆమెను “బీదగృహం”నుండి తెచ్చుకున్నారు. వారిపట్ల ఆమెకున్న కృతజ్ఞతాభావం తన అనుభవాలని బయటకు చెప్పనివ్వదు గాని, చెబితే మాత్రం, ఆ భయంకరమైన అనుభవాలు విని రక్తం గడ్డకట్టుకుపోతుంది. కొద్దిసేపటి క్రితం వరకు పైకొంగుతో కన్నీళ్ళు తుడుచుకుంటూ మౌనంగా నిలుచున్న ఫెరంగీ యువతి మరెవరో కాదు, రాక్సీనే!  ఆ పెద్దావిడ కోపంతో రెచ్చిపోతోంది; పదిమందిలో జాలి ప్రదర్శిస్తూ, ఎవరూ లేనపుడు క్రూరత్వంలో కొత్తపోకడలు పోవడంలో ఆమెకు ఆమే సాటి; హార్వే ఇంట్లో ఉన్నంత కాలం అతని జీవితాన్ని నరకం చేసింది. అతను దానిని గుర్తుతెచ్చుకోవలసివచ్చినప్పుడల్లా సిగ్గుపడిపోయేవాడు. ఇంత క్రూరత్వం చవిచూచినప్పటికీ, అతను అంత చక్కని వ్యక్తిత్వాన్ని ఇంకా ఎలా నిలబెట్టుకున్నాడో తలుచుకుంటే ఆశ్చర్యం వేస్తుంది.

“ఓహ్! ఇతనెంత అద్భుతమైన వ్యక్తి,” అన్నాడు స్టీవెన్స్ తనలో తను మాటాడుకుంటున్నట్టు నెమ్మదిగా, “పరమాద్భుతమైన వ్యక్తి అనడంలో సందేహం లేదు; కానీ, ఈ రాత్రి వరకు అతనెంత అద్భుతమైన వ్యక్తో గ్రహించలేకపోయాను.” 

“అదే ఎవరికీ అర్థకాని బ్రహ్మరహస్యం. అందులోనూ, ఇటువంటి పేడతట్టలోంచి రావడమే అన్నిటికన్నా ఆశ్చర్యం కలిగించే విషయం,” అన్నాడు లాయరు చేతులు నాలుగుపక్కలాతిప్పి ఇల్లంతటినీ చూపిస్తూ. ఆ మాటల వెనుక తాము నిలుచున్న నాలుగుగోడల మధ్యప్రదేడ్శం కాక వేరేదో ధ్వని ఉంది.     

 “కాస్త గాలాడుతుందేమో చూడాలి. నాకు ఊపిరాడక కళ్ళు తిరుగుతున్నట్టు అనిపిస్తోంది,” అని గొణిగాడు స్టీవెన్స్, ఒక చేత్తో కిటికీ తలుపు తియ్యడానికి నానా తంటాలు పడుతూ. కిటికీ చట్రం బిగుసుకుపోయింది. తలుపు తెరుచుకోవడం లేదు. విసుగెత్తి వెనక్కి తిరిగివచ్చి కూచుని తన కాలరు పైకెత్తి విసురుకుంటున్నాడు కొంచెం గాలి తగులుతుందేమోనన్న ఆశతో.  లాయరు వచ్చి ఎర్రని బలిష్టమైన అతని చేతితో ఒక పిడిగుద్దు గుద్దాడు. ఆ దెబ్బకి తలుపు రెండు అంగుళాలు పైకిలేచి తెరుచుకుంది. స్టీవెన్స్ లాయరుకు కృతజ్ఞతలు చెప్పాడు. కాని అరగంట క్రిందటినుండి అతని గొంతులో కొట్టుమిట్టాడుతున్న వాంతి వస్తుందేమోనన్న భావన, హార్వే మెరిక్ కి చెందిన జ్ఞాపిక ఏది దొరికితే అది పట్టుకుని అక్కడనుండి పారిపోవాలన్న కోరిక రగిలిస్తోంది.

హాఁ!  అతనికి ఇప్పుడర్థమైంది, తన గురువు పెదాలపై తరచు కనిపించే చిన్నపాటి విసుగుకి కారణం ఏమిటో! 

అతనికి బాగా గుర్తు. ఒకసారి మెరిక్ వాళ్ల ఊరునుండి తిరిగి వచ్చినపుడు, తనతోపాటు సన్నగా, పోలికలు పట్టలేని ఒక వృద్ధురాలు కూచుని తన ముణుకుమీద ఏదో పెట్టుకునికుడుతున్న చిత్రాన్ని (Bas-relief) తీసుకుని వచ్చాడు. అందులో తాళ్ళనిక్కరు తొడుక్కున్న కుర్రాడొకడు, జీవం ఉట్టిపడుతూ, చక్కని పెదాలతో, ఒక తాడు భుజానికి వేలాడుతుంటే ఆమె ప్రక్కని నిలుచుని, తను పట్టుకున్న తుమ్మెదవైపు ఆమెదృష్టిని ఆకర్షించడానికి ఆమె గౌను అసహనంగా లాగుతూ ఉంటాడు. ఆ చిత్రంలో బక్కపలచగా ఉన్న స్త్రీని చిత్రించిన శ్రద్ధకీ, ఆమె ముఖంలో చూపించిన అలసటకీ స్టీవెన్స్ ముగ్ధుడై ‘ఆమె మీ అమ్మగారా?’ అని మెరిక్ ని అడగడం, అతని ముఖంలో ఒక్కసారి మెరిసి మాయమైన నిరుత్సాహం గుర్తొచ్చాయి. 

లాయరు శవపేటిక ప్రక్కన తూగుకుర్చీలో శరీరాన్ని వెనక్కి వాల్చి, కళ్ళుమూసుకుని ఊగుతున్నాడు. స్టీవెన్స్ అతన్నీ, తీరుగా ఉన్న అతని చుబుకాన్నీ పరీక్షగా చూసి, అంత అందమైన చుబుకం మీద అందవికారంగా కనిపించే గడ్డాన్ని ఎందుకు పెంచాడో అర్థంకాక ఆశ్చర్యపోయాడు.  ఆ యువ శిల్పి చూపులు తనకి గుచ్చుకున్నాయేమో నన్నట్టు లాయరు కళ్ళు తెరిచాడు.

అతనెప్పుడూ మితభాషిగానే ఉండేవాడా?” అని అడిగేడు అకస్మాత్తుగా, “ఎందుకంటే, కుర్రాడిగా ఉన్నప్పుడు అతను బాగా సిగ్గరి.”

మాట ఎలాగూ అడిగారు కాబట్టిచెప్పక తప్పదు; మీరన్నట్టు అతను మితభాషే,” అని మాటకలిపాడు స్టీవెన్స్, “అతనికి పదిమందితో ఉండడం సరదాయే గానీ, అతనెప్పుడూ ఒంటరివాడేనన్న భావన కలిగించేవాడు. అతనికి ఎవరైనా ఆవేశంగా మాటాడితే ఇష్టం ఉండేది కాదు. ఎప్పుడూ ఏదో ఆలోచిస్తూ, ఒక్క అతని కళమీద తప్ప, తనమీద తనకే నమ్మకం లేనట్టుండేవాడు. అతని కళలో మాత్రం సందేహాలూ ఉండేవి కావు అతనికి. పురుషుల్ని అసలు నమ్మేవాడు కాదు; స్త్రీలంటే మరీను. కానీ వాళ్ళ గురించి చెప్పే చెడుమాటలు ఎప్పుడూ నమ్మేవాడు కాదు. అతను ఎప్పుడూ ఉత్తమోత్తమమైన వాటినే నమ్మాలనుకునే వాడు, కానీ, వాటిని పరిశోధించడానికి మాత్రం జంకేవాడు.”

ఒళ్ళుకాలిన కుక్క నిప్పంటే భయపడుతుంది,” అన్నాడు లాయరు కళ్ళుమూసుకుని నిష్ఠూరంగా.  

దయనీయమైన శిల్పి బాల్యం గురించి స్టీవెన్స్ ఏదో ఊహించుకుంటూ పోతున్నాడు. అంత సుకుమారమైన భావనలూ, నాణ్యమైన ప్రవర్తనగలిగిన వ్యక్తి వెనుక, ఇంత ఆటవిక, బాధామయమైన బాల్యమూ ఉండడం ఊహకు అందని విషయం. అతని మనోఫలకంమీద సౌందర్యవంతమైన చిత్రాలు నిరంతరం పెల్లుబుకుతూనే ఉంటాయి; అవి ఎంత సున్నితంగా స్పష్టంగా ఉంటాయంటే, లేత ఎండపడుతున్న గోడమీద కదలాడుతున్న రావి ఆకు నీడకూడా అక్కడ శాశ్వతంగా ముద్రించబడుతుంది. ఎవరిచేతిలోనైనా మంత్రదండం ఉండడం నిజమైతే, వ్యక్తి ఖచ్చితంగా మెరిక్ మాత్రమే. అతను దేనిమీద చెయ్యివేస్తే, దాని నిగూఢరహస్యాలన్నీ బహిర్గతం చెయ్యగలిగేవాడు. గుప్తసౌందర్యపు బందిఖానానుండి తప్పించి, అరేబియన్ కథలోని యువరాజు మంత్రగత్తె మాయలకు ప్రతిమాయ కల్పించి గెలిచినట్టు, వాటికి తిరుగులేని సహజ సౌందర్యాన్ని పునరుద్ధరించేవాడు; అతనికి వస్తువుతో, వ్యక్తితో పరిచయమైనా, వాటిపై అతని సుందరమైన అనుభూతిని మిగిల్చేవాడు. తనదైన అగోచరమైన సంతకాన్ని, సువాసనని, మాటని, రంగుని విడిచిపెట్టేవాడు.        

స్టీవెన్స్ కి తన గురువు జీవితంలోని సిసలైన విషాదం అవగతమైంది. అందరూ అపోహపడుతున్నట్టు దానికి త్రాగుడూ, భగ్నప్రేమా కారణం కావు. వాటికంటే లోతుగా చిన్నప్పుడు అతని మనసుమీద పడ్డ అనుభూతులు చేసిన గాయాలు కారణం. వాటికి కారణం తను కాకపోయినా, సిగ్గుపడవలసినపని లేకపోయినా, అతను తప్పించుకోలేక, బాల్యంనుండీ గుండెలో దాచున్నాడు. ఉత్సాహంతో ఉరకలేసే కుర్రాడిని, సంప్రదాయంగా వస్తున్న ఉదాత్తమైన శిక్షణ, తనని తాను రక్షించుకోలేని నిరాయుధిడిని చేసి, ఎన్నడూ కని విని ఎరగని నికృష్టమైన సౌందర్య రహితమైన ఎడారిలో విడిచిపెట్టింది!

పదకొండుగంటలకి పొడవుగా లావుగా నల్లని దుస్తుల్లో ఉన్నామె గదిలోకి ప్రవేశించి పరామర్శించడానికి ఊరివాళ్లు వస్తున్నందున భోజనాలగదిలోకి రమ్మని పిలిచింది. స్టీవెన్స్ లేవడానికి ప్రయత్నిస్తుంటే, లాయరు నిర్వికారంగా ఇలా అన్నాడు, “మీరు వెళ్ళండి. నిస్సందేహంగా మీకొక మరపురాని అనుభూతి మిగులుతుంది. నామట్టుకు నాకు, వాళ్లని తట్టుకోలేను. ఇరవై ఏళ్లబట్టి భరిస్తూనేన్నాను వాళ్ళని.”

స్టీవెన్స్ తనవెనుకనే తలుపు మూస్తూ, గడ్డం చేతుల్లోపెట్టుకుని, సన్నని దీపం వెలుగులో శవం ప్రక్క కూర్చున్న లాయరువంక ఒకసారి చూశాడు.

ఇంతకుముందు రైలుపెట్టె దగ్గర గుమిగూడిన మూకే మళ్ళీ ఇక్కడకూడా గుమిగూడింది. కిరసనాయిలుబుడ్డి దీపం వెలుగులో వాళ్ళు ఇప్పుడు వేరువేరు వ్యక్తులుగా కనిపిస్తున్నారు. పిల్లిగడ్డం, పండిపోయిన జుత్తుతో పాలిపోయి నీరసంగాఉన్న మతాధికారి, శవం ప్రక్కన ఉన్న మేజాబల్లకి ఆనుకుని, దానిమీద బైబిలు ఉంచాడు. ఆర్మీలో ఉన్నతపదవిలో పనిచేసి వచ్చిన వ్యక్తి, రూం హీటర్ దగ్గరకి తన కుర్చీ జరుపుకుని అనువుగా గోడకి చేరవేసేడు,జేబులోపెట్టుకున్న పన్నుకుట్టుకునే పుల్లకోసం వెతుకుతూ. ఫెల్ప్స్, ఎల్డర్ అన్న బ్యాంకు ఉద్యోగస్థులిద్దరూ భోజనాలబల్ల వెనకనున్న ఒక మూల కూచుని వడ్డీలమీద ప్రభుత్వం తెచ్చిన కొత్త చట్టంగురించీ, గృహోపకరణాలకి ఇచ్చే అప్పులమీద దాని ప్రభావం గురించి అప్పటివరకువరకు తాము చేస్తున్న చర్చ ముగించేరు. నయవంచకుడి ముఖంకలిగిన స్థిరాస్థి వ్యాపారం ప్రతినిధి ఒకడు నవ్వుతూ వాళ్ళతో జతకలిసేడు. రాక్షసిబొగ్గుతో మండుతున్న పొయ్యిముందు రక్షణకోసం ఉంచిన ఇనపచక్కీకి దగ్గరగా తమకాళ్ళు జాపుకుని, ఒకప్రక్క బొగ్గూ, కలప, అమ్మే వ్యక్తీ, రెండోప్రక్క పశువులు రవాణాచేసే వ్యక్తీ కూచున్నారు. స్టీవెన్స్ తన జేబులోంచి ఒక పుస్తకం తీసి చదువుకో సాగేడు. ఇంట్లో రోదనలు తగ్గుముఖం పడుతుంటే, అతని చుట్టూ జరుగుతున్న సంభాషణ వాళ్ళకి కుతూహలం ఉన్న అన్ని విషయాల గురించీ నడుస్తోంది. ఇంట్లోవాళ్లందరూ నిద్రపోయారని రూఢిచేసుకున్న తర్వాత, ఆర్మీలో పనిచేసి వచ్చిన వ్యక్తి తన భుజాలు విదుల్చుకుని, ఎదురుగాఉన్న కుర్చీమీద మడమలు ఆన్చి కాళ్ళు రెండూ బారజాపుకున్నాడు.

ఫెల్ప్స్, విల్లు ఉందేమోననుకుంటున్నాను,” అన్నాడు కీచుగొంతుకతో.

బ్యాంకరు నవ్వుతూ లేదన్నట్లు తలూపి, ముత్యం పొదిగిన పిడికత్తితో గోళ్ళు కత్తిరించుకుంటున్నాడు.  

విల్లు ఉండవలసిన పనేముంది ఇక్కడ?” అని, తనే మళ్ళీ, “ఉందంటావా?” అని ఎదురుప్రశ్న వేసేడు.

ఆర్మీ వ్యక్తి అసౌకర్యంగా తన కుర్చీలో అటూ ఇటూ కదిలేడు. ఇప్పుడు తన కాళ్ళను తనగడ్డానికి మరింత దగ్గరగా లాక్కుంటూ. “లేకపోడానికేం? ముసలాయన హార్వే మధ్య బాగానే సంపాదించాడని అన్నాడు?” అని అన్నాడు.

అప్పుడు రెండో బ్యాంకరు అందుకున్నాడు,”దానర్థం నా ఉద్దేశ్యంలో, హార్వే మరే పొలాలూ తనఖా పెట్టమని అడగలేదనీ; అంటే, తన చదువు సంగతి తను చూసుకోగలుగుతున్నాడనీ.”

నా జ్ఞాపకశక్తి హార్వే చదువుకోనప్పటిరోజులదాకా పోతుందని అనుకోను,” అన్నాడు ఆర్మీ వ్యక్తి.  

అందరూ నవ్వుకున్నారు. మతగురువు జేబులోంచి రుమాలు తీసి గట్టిగా ముక్కు చీదేడు. ఫెల్ప్స్ తన చురకత్తి “టక్” మని చప్పుడుచేస్తూ మడతపెట్టేడు. తనలో గొణుక్కున్నట్టుగా, “పాపం! ముసలాయనకి పిల్లలెవ్వరూ చేతికి అందిరాకపోవడం చాలా విచారకరం,” అన్నాడు. “వాళ్ళెప్పుడూ అందిరాలేదు.  హార్వే మీద అతను ఒక డజను పశువుల ఫారంలు నడపడానికి పనికొచ్చేంత డబ్బు తగలేశాడు. అంతకంటే, శాండ్ క్రీక్ లో ఖర్చుపెట్టి ఉంటే ఫలితం దక్కేది. హార్వే ఇంటిపట్టున ఉండి ఉన్నదేదో జాగ్రత్తగా చూసుకుని, పశువుల్నీ, వ్యవసాయం, కౌలు లెక్కల్నీ చూసుకున్నా వాళ్ళపని బాగుండేది. ముసలాయన పాపం అన్నిటికీ కౌలుకిచ్చిన రైతులనే నమ్ముకోవలసి రావడంతో, వాళ్ళు అతన్ని ఎడాపెడా మోసం చేసేరు.”

“హార్వే పనికొచ్చేపని ఏదీ చెయ్యలేడు. అతనికి పని అంటే శ్రద్ధలేదు,” అన్నాడు అడితి నడిపే వ్యక్తి. నే చెబుతున్నది అతను క్రిందటిసారి ఇంటికి వచ్చినప్పటి సంగతి. అతను తిరిగి వెళ్ళే రోజు, పాపం ముసలాయన హార్వేని రైలుకు పంపడానికని డబ్బులు ఏర్పాటు చేసుకుంటున్నాడు. కాల్ మూట్స్ వీధిదడికి ఉన్న కన్నాలు కప్పున్నాడు. అప్పుడు  హార్వే  మెట్లమీదకి వచ్చి, “కాల్ మూట్స్, కాల్ మూట్స్, త్వరగా రా! నా పెట్టె తాడుతో బిగించికట్టు,” అంటూ పురమాయిస్తున్నాడు.

“హార్వే సంగతే అంత,” తల ఊఁ కొట్టాడు ఆర్మీ వ్యక్తి, “అతను ఎలా అరుస్తాడో ఊహించగలను. అతను పెద్దవాడై పేంట్లు తొడుక్కుంటున్న రోజుల్లో, అతను పశువులమంద సాయంత్రం ఇంటికి తోలుకొస్తూ, అవి వరిపొలంలోకి పోయినా పట్టించుకోనందుకు వాళ్ళమ్మ కమ్చీతో కొట్టడం నాకు బాగా గుర్తు. ఓ సారి అలాగే నా ఆవునొకదాన్ని చంపేసేడు. అది మా లావు జెర్సీ ఆవు. నా దగ్గర ఉన్న పశువులన్నిటిలోకీ ఎక్కువ పాలు ఇచ్చేది అదే. పాపం ఆ నష్టం ముసలాయన భరించవలసి వచ్చింది. కారణం ఓ పక్క ఆవు ఎటో పోతుంటే, హార్వే సూర్యాస్తమయాన్ని చూసి మైమరచిపోయాడట. ఎదురు తిరిగి, సూర్యాస్తమయం ఎన్నడూ లేనంతగా బాగుందని వాదిస్తాడు.”

“అసలా ముసలాయన హార్వేని చదువుకి తూర్పుకి పంపించి పెద్ద తప్పుచేశాడు” అని జడ్జీగారిలా తీర్మానించేడు ఫెల్ప్స్, మేక గెడ్డంలాంటి తన గడ్డం సవరించుకుంటూ. “అక్కడే అతనికిపారిస్ కి వెళ్ళడం, ఈ పనికిమాలినవన్నీ నేర్చుకోవడం అలవాటయింది. నిజానికి హార్వేకి కావలసింది కాన్సాస్ లాంటి ఏ మంచి ఊర్లోనో ఉన్న బిజినెస్ కాలేజీనుండి వ్యాపారదక్షతలో శిక్షణ.”

స్టీవెన్స్ కి వాళ్ల మాటలు కళ్లముందు కదలాడుతున్నాయి. ఈ మనుషులికి అతని శవపేటికమీద ఉన్న తాటాకుకి అర్థం తెలియదనుకోవాలా?  హార్వే మెరిక్ పేరుతో జతకలిసి ఉండకపొతే వాళ్ళ ఊరు పేరు శాశ్వతంగా ఏ పోస్టల్ గైడులో సమాధి అయిపోయి ఉండేది. రెండు ఊపిరితిత్తులలోనూ రక్తం పేరుకుని కోలుకోవడం అసాధ్యమని తెలిసిన తర్వాత, చనిపోయినరోజు తన శవాన్ని పుట్టిన ఊరు తీసుకుపొమ్మని చెబుతూ తన గురువు అన్నమాటలు అతనికి గుర్తొచ్చేయి. “ప్రపంచమంతా కష్టపడిపనిచేసి, ప్రగతి సాధిస్తున్నప్పుడు, ఆ ఊళ్ళో పరుండడం అంత గొప్పవిషయం కాదు,” అని నిర్వికారంగా నవ్వుతూ, “కానీ, చివరికి మనమంతా వచ్చినచోటుకే పోవలసి వస్తుందేమో! ఊర్లో వాళ్లందరూ నన్ను చూడడానికి వస్తారు; వాళ్ళందరూ నా గురించి చెప్పుకోవడం పూర్తయ్యేక, భగవంతుడు ఇచ్చే తీర్పు నన్నిక భయపెట్టదు,” అని, తన చిత్రాలన్నిటివంకా నీరసంగా చెయ్యితిప్పి చూపిస్తూ, “ఇక్కడి అద్భుతమైన చిత్రాలేవీ నన్ను కాపాడవు,” అన్నాడు.

పశువుల వ్యాపారి అందుకున్నాడు, “నలభై ఏళ్ళకే మెరిక్ చనిపోయాడంటే చాలా చిన్నవయసులో పోయినట్లే. మామూలుగా అయితే వాళ్లు చాలా కాలమే బ్రతకాలి. కానీ, తాగుడే దానికి కారణం అయి ఉంటుంది.”

“వాళ్ళ అమ్మవైపు వాళ్ళు ఎక్కువకాలం బ్రతకలేదు. హార్వే ఆరోగ్యంకూడా ఎప్పుడూ అంతంత మాత్రమే,” అన్నాడు మతగురువు మెల్లగా. అతనికి హార్వే గురించి ఇంకా  చెప్పాలని ఉంది. ఒకప్పుడు ఆ కుర్రాడికి ఆదివారాలు పాఠం చెప్పేవాడు. తనకి అతనంటే చాలా ఇష్టం కూడా. కానీ అతను అవి చెప్పగలిగే పరిస్థితిలో లేనని గ్రహించాడు. అతనికొడుకులిద్దరూ బాగుపడలేదు. అందులో ఒకడు క్రితంసారి రైల్లో ఇంటికివచ్చి ఏడాది తిరగకముందే, బ్లాక్ హిల్స్ లో జూదగృహంలో హత్యచెయ్యబడ్డాడు.

“అయినా సరే, సారాయి మంచి రంగుల్లో ఉన్నప్పుడు హార్వే దాని రుచికి అలవాటుపడ్డాడని చెప్పక తప్పదు,” అంటూ నీతులు వల్లించేడు పశువుల వ్యాపారి. 

 

 

సరిగ్గా అదే సమయంలో చావడిలోకి తెరుచుకున్న తలుపు గట్టిగా చప్పుడవడంతో అందరూ ఒక్కసారి ఉలిక్కిపడ్డారు. జిమ్ లైర్డ్ ఒక్కడే రావడంతో అందరికీ మనసు కుదుటపడింది. అసలే ఎర్రగా ఉన్న అతని ముఖం కోపంతో మరింత ఎర్రబడింది. అతని నీలికళ్లలో కోపపు ఎర్రటిచార చూడగానే ఆర్మీ వ్యక్తి తన తల కాళ్లమధ్య దాచుకున్నాడు. వాళ్ళందరికీ జిమ్ అంటే హడలు. అతను తాగుబోతే కాని, పడమటి కాన్సాస్ లో ఏ లాయరుకీ చాతకానంతగా చట్టాన్ని తన కక్షిదారుకి అనుకూలంగా మార్చి వాదించగలడు; చాలామంది ప్రయత్నించేరు కూడా. లాయరు తనవెనుకే తలుపు నెమ్మదిగా మూసి, దానికి వీపు చేరవేసి, చేతులు నమస్కరిస్తూ, ఒకప్రక్కకి తల వాల్చేడు. అదే కోర్టుగదిలో ఇలా చేసేడంటే, అందరూ చెవులు రిక్కించి వినేవారు. సాధారణంగా అలాంటప్పుడు సునిశితమైన వ్యంగ్యంతో ప్రత్యర్ధుల మాడువాయగొట్టేవాడు.   

చాలా పొడిపొడిగా ఇలా ప్రారంభించేడు, “ఓయ్ పెద్దమనుషులూ! ఈ ఊర్లో పుట్టి పెరిగిన చాలామంది కుర్రాళ్ల శవపేటికల దగ్గర మీరు కూర్చున్నప్పుడు మీ ప్రక్కన నేను కూడా ఉన్నాను. నాకు సరిగా గుర్తున్నంతవరకు, మీరెన్నడూ వాళ్లగురించి ఒక్క మంచిమాట మాటాడిన పాపాన పోలేదు. ఇంతకీ, ఏమిటి కారణం? ఈ శాండ్ సిటీలో మిలియనీర్లు కనిపించనట్టు, గౌరవప్రదంగా మాటాడదామంటే ఒక్క యువకుడూ కనిపించడేం? కొత్తవాడికెవడికైనా దానికి లోపం ఈ ఊరిలోనే ఏదో ఉందనిపిస్తుంది. ఈ ఊర్లో ఇప్పటివరకు అంత తెలివైన లాయరు లేడని పెరుపడ్డ రూబెన్ సేయర్ సైతం, విసిరేసిన పాచికలా యూనివర్శిటీనుండి తిన్నగా ఈ ఊళ్ళో పడగానే మద్యానికి బానిసై, చెక్కుమీద దొంగసంతకంచేసి, ఆత్మహత్యచేసుకున్నాడు?  బిల్ మెరిట్ కొడుకెందుకు ఒమాహాలో రైలుపెట్టెలో మూర్ఛతో చనిపోయాడు? థామస్ కొడుకెందుకు జూదగృహంలో చంపబడ్డాడు?  ఇన్సురెన్సు కంపెనీలని మోసం చెయ్యడానికి ఏడమ్స్ కొడుకు ఎందుకు మిల్లు తగలబెట్టి జైలుపాలయ్యేడు?

లాయరు ఒక్కక్షణం ఆగి చేతులు వదులుచేసి, ఒక పిడికిలి నెమ్మదిగా మేజాబల్లమీద ఉంచుతూ ఇలా అందుకున్నాడు, “ఎందుకో నేను చెబుతాను వినండి. ఎందుకంటే, వాళ్ళకి చెడ్డీలు తొడుక్కోవడం వచ్చిన వయసునుండీ, మీరు డబ్బూ, వంచన, మోసం గురించి వాళ్ల చెవుల్లో హోరెత్తేలా నూరిపోసేరు. మన తాతలు అబ్రహామ్ లింకన్ నీ, జాన్ ఏడమ్స్ నీ ఎలా ఆదర్శంగా తీసుకుని మాటాడేవారో, ఈ రోజు మాటాడుతున్నట్టుగా,మీరు ఫెల్ప్స్ నీ, ఎల్డర్ నీ వాళ్లకి ఆదర్శపురుషులుగా మాటాడేరు. పాపం కుర్రాళ్ళు! మరీ చిన్నవాళ్ళు! అదృష్టం కలిసిరాలేదు! మీరు పెట్టిన వ్యాపారంలో వాళ్లకి నైపుణ్యం లేదు; వాళ్ళు ఫెల్ప్స్, ఎల్డర్ లాంటి కళాకారులకి పోటీగా డబ్బు ఎలా ముట్టజెప్పగలరు? మీరు వాళ్ళని గజదొంగలుగా తయారు చెయ్యాలనుకున్నారు; వాళ్లు కాలేకపోయారు. అంతే తేడా! సంస్కారానికీ, దుర్మార్గానికీ మధ్యపెరుగుతూ, వ్యసనాలబారిన పడకుండా ఉన్న కుర్రాడు ఈ ప్రాంతంలో ఎవరైనా ఉన్నాడంటే అతను మెరిక్ ఒక్కడే.  తక్కిన కుర్రాళ్ళు సఫలురుకాలేనందుకు ద్వేషించినదానికంటే ఎక్కువగా, మెరిక్ సఫలుడైనందుకు ద్వేషిస్తున్నారు. దేవుడా! దేవుడా! ఎంత ఘోరంగా ద్వేషిస్తున్నారతన్ని! ఫెల్ప్స్ కి ఎంత పొగరంటే తలుచుకుంటే మనల్నందర్నీ కొనెయ్యగలడట! కానీ హార్వే అతని బాంకన్నా, పశువుల ఫారాలన్నా గుడ్డిగవ్వ విలువివ్వడని తెలుసు. ఆ రకంగా అతనికి మెరిక్ అంటే ద్వేషం ఉండడం సహజం.

ఇక్కడున్న వృద్ధుడు నిమ్రాడ్ తాగుడువల్ల మెరిక్ చనిపోయాడని అనుకుంటున్నాడు; ఆ మాట నిమ్రాడ్ లాంటి వ్యక్తీ, నేనూ అనడం హాస్యాస్పదంగా ఉంటుంది.

సోదరుడు ఎల్డర్ ముసలాయన పంపిన డబ్బులు మెరిక్ విచ్చలవిడిగా ఖర్చుపెట్టేడని అంటున్నాడు. తండ్రికి తిరిగి ఇవ్వడంలో ఒక మేరకు మెరిక్ విఫలమయి ఉండొచ్చు. కానీ, మనందరికీ తెలుసు ఎల్డర్ ఎలా వాళ్ళ నాన్న ఒక అబద్ధాలకోరని కోర్టులో ప్రమాణం చేసేడో; వాళ్ళ భాగస్వామ్య వ్యాపారంలో తండ్రి ఉన్ని గొరిగిన గొర్రెలా, కట్టుబట్టలతో ఎలా బయటకు వచ్చేడో. నేను మరీ వ్యక్తిగతంగా విమర్శిస్తున్నానేమో గాని, విషయం మీకు సూటిగా చెప్పదలుచుకున్నాను.”

లాయరు ఒక క్షణం ఆగేడు. భుజాలు సవరించుకుని మళ్ళీ మొదలుపెట్టేడు, “హార్వే మెరిక్ నేనూ ఇద్దరం ఒక బడిలో కలిసే చదువుకున్నాం. మమ్మల్ని చూసి అందరూ గర్వపడాలని చాలా గంభీరంగా ఆలోచించిన వాళ్ళం. మే మిద్దరం గొప్పవాళ్ళం కావాలని కలలుగన్నాం. నేను కూడా కలగన్నాను, ఇది పరిహాసానికి చెబుతున్నది కాదు, నిజంగా గొప్పవాణ్ణవుదామనుకున్నాను. నే నిక్కడికి వచ్చి ప్రాక్టీసు ప్రారంభించేక తెలుసుకున్నది మీకు గొప్ప లాయరు అవసరంలేదు; మీకు మీ వ్యవహారాలని నడిపించగల లాయరు కావాలి; ఇక్కడ ఒక వృద్ధుడికి పింఛను ఎక్కువయ్యేట్టు చూడాలి ఎందుకంటే అతనికి అజీర్తి ఉంది గనుక; ఫెల్ప్స్ కి  భూమి కొలతలు మళ్ళీ జరపాలి ఎందుకంటే, మృతుడు విల్సను భార్యకి చెందిన భూమి ఎలాగైనా అతని దక్షిణంవైపు కొలతలోకి వచ్చెయ్యాలివెచ్చేట్టు చెయ్యాలి; నెలకి 5 శాతం వడ్డీకి అప్పు ఇచ్చి, ఎలాగైనా వడ్డీ రాబట్టుకోవడం కావాలి ఎల్డర్ కి; ముసలాయన స్టార్క్ కి ఇక్కడున్న ఆడవాళ్లకి ఏటా వచ్చే వడ్డీ డబ్బులు ప్రామిసరీనోటు కాగితం విలువకూడా చెయ్యని భూములమీద ఎలాగైనా మదుపుచేసేలా నమ్మించాలి. మీ కందరికీ నేను తప్పనిసరిగా కావాలసి వచ్చింది, ఇకముందుకూడా కావాలి. అందుకే నేను నిజం నిర్భయంగా చెప్పదలుచుకున్నాను.

ఏదయితేనేం, మీరనుకున్నట్లుగా నేను వెనక్కి వచ్చి, మీరుకోరుకున్నట్టుగా నిజాయితీ లేని వ్యక్తిగా మారిపోయేను. మీరు నా మీద ఏదో గౌరవం ఉన్నట్టు నటిస్తారు; కానీ హార్వే విషయానికి వచ్చేసరికి అందరూ కలిసికట్టుగా అతనిమీద బురదజల్లుతారు; ఎందుకంటే అతని చేతుల్ని కట్టిపడేసి వాటిని మీరు మురికిచెయ్యలేకపొయేరు గనుక. ఓహ్! చెప్పకేం, మీరందరూ వివేకవంతులైన క్రిస్టియన్స్!

ఎప్పుడైనా మెరిక్ పేరు తూర్పువైపునుండి వచ్చే పేపర్లలో పెద్ద అక్షరలతో కనిపిస్తే, కమ్చీ దెబ్బలు తిన్న కుక్కలా సిగ్గుతో కుంచించుకుపోయేవాడిని; అప్పుడప్పుడు దిక్కుమాలిన బురదప్రపంచంలో పొర్లాడకుండా, అతని ప్రపంచంలో అతను, తను పెట్టుకున్న ఉన్నతమైన ఆదర్శాన్ని చేరుకుంటున్నట్టు ఊహించుకునే వాడిని.

మరి మన సంగతి? నిర్జీవమైన చిన్న పడమటి నగరంలో మనందరం ఆశోపహతులమై అసూయతో చాతనైనంతవరకు పోట్లాడుకుని, అబద్ధాలడుకుని, కష్టపడి ఒకరిదొకరు దోచుకుందికి ప్రయత్నించి, ఒకర్నొకరు ద్వేషించుకుని మనం సాధించిందేమిటి? మీకందరికీ తెలుసును, మనమందరం సమిష్టిగా సాధించినదంతా ఇచ్చినా, దానికి సూర్యాస్తమయం చూడడానికి అతనిచ్చినపాటి విలువకూడా మెరిక్ ఇవ్వడని. ఇంత పగలూ, ద్వేషాలతో మండిపోయే ఊరునుండి అంతటి అద్భుతమైన మేధావి ఎలా పుట్టేడని అడిగితే దానికి కారణం నేను చెప్పలేను, మనమెవ్వరం అర్థంచేసుకోలేని లీల భగవంతుడుకి మాత్రమే ఎరుక. కానీ బోస్టనునుండి వచ్చిన వ్యక్తికి విన్నవించేదేమంటే, రాత్రి తను విన్న చొల్లుకబుర్లన్నీ గొప్పవ్యక్తి గురించైనా, సాండ్ సిటీ లాంటి దిగజారిపోయిన ఊరుకిచెందిన, దారితప్పిన, ఒళ్ళు కాల్చుకున్న, భూమిలేని వాళ్ళూ, వడ్డీవ్యాపారం చేసుకునే తిమింగలాలూ చెప్పేవేనని. ఊరిని భగవంతుడు రక్షించు గాక!”

ఆర్మీవ్యక్తి తల ఎత్తి మెడజాచి నాలుగుపక్కలా చూసి ఏమవుతోందో గ్రహించే లోపే, లాయరు బయటకి వెళుతూ స్టీవెన్స్ ని దాటినప్పుడు అతని చేతిలో అభినందనపూర్వకంగా చెయ్యివేసి, కోటుభుజంమీద తట్టి హాల్లోంచి నిష్క్రమించాడు.

మరుచటిరోజు జిమ్ లైర్డ్ బాగా త్రాగి అంత్యక్రియలకి హాజరుకాలేకపోయాడు. స్టీవెన్స్ అతని ఆఫీసుకి రెండుసార్లు వెళ్ళేడు కాని ప్రయోజనం లేక అతనికి వీడ్కోలు చెప్పకుండానే తూర్పున ఉన్న తన ఊరికి బయలుదేరవలసి వచ్చింది. అతని కెందుకో మనసులో అతనిదగ్గరనుండి మళ్ళీ ఏదో కబురు వస్తుందని అనిపించి తన చిరునామా అతని టేబిలుమీద ఉంచి వెళ్ళేడు. లైర్డ్ ఒకవేళ దాన్ని చూసి ఉంటే ఉండొచ్చునేమో గాని, సమాధానం ఇవ్వలేదు. హార్వే మెరిక్ శవపేటికతోపాటే పాటే, అతను తనని బాగా ప్రేమించేవాడన్న భావనకూడా సమాధి అయిపోయి ఉండవచ్చు. ఎందుకంటే, అతను మళ్ళీ ఎన్నడూ అతని గురించి మాటాడలేదు. ఫెల్ప్స్ కొడుకుల్లో ఒకడు కొలరాడోలో ప్రభుత్వానికి చెందిన కలప కొట్టినందుకు ఎదుర్కొంటున్న వ్యాజ్యంలోలో అతని తరఫున వాదించడానికి వెళుతూ దారిలో చలి ఒంటికి బాగా పట్టి చనిపోయాడు.

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Willa Cather

December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947

American

 

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Original : https://cather.unl.edu/ss008.html

ప్రకటనలు

Placebo… Vakati Panduranaga Rao, Telugu

 

Vakati Panduranga Rao (1934- 1999)

“Six- Four, game, set and match to Manohar!” announced Rayman who acted as Umpire.

“Congrats Manohar! That was a good game,” Ravindra conveyed his appreciation shaking Manohar’s hand.

Accepting his greeting he complained, ‘Somehow, you are not your self today. Otherwise, will you let me win so easily?”

They packed their Tennis racquets.

Ravindra was Hospital Superintendent at St. Bernard. Manohar was Collector, Customs. Rayman was Captain of a ship and had come to Madras on vacation.

After the match, all of them sat leisurely in the Tennis Club lawns and sipping tea.

The sky was turning grey slowly. Neon lamps lighted suddenly as if they were coming out of a reverie. The Club boy was busy roaming all around and supplying things demanded by members.

“Yes, I don’t know why, but your focus was not on the game today,” reiterated Manohar.

“Some nice new nurse?” winked Rayman mischievously.

“No. No. My friend is a Rishyasrunga,” defended Manohar.

“Who is he?” asked Rayman.

After Manohar recounted the story of Rishyasrunga, all of them had a hearty laughter.

“Then Dr. Ravindra! You must follow me to east. You must stay for a week in Bangkok… then …”

“Is Bangkok such a catalyst?” interrupted Manohar.

There you find a dozen catalysts in every building. The beauties there can transform a Rishyasrunga to Vatsayana in one night…”

“Why? Your eastern voyage is exclusive to Ravi or there is room for this poor Customs fellow?”

“What a question! Don’t the Customs people and Captains on the sea have extended relations for lives?” said Rayman.

“So you both collude to leave me alone,” spoke Ravindra at last.

“No. No. In a city like Bangkok a doctor never goes out of demand.”

The three laughed heartily once again having understood the pun.

“But once my friend takes up a case, nothing can distract his attention…” said Manohar browsing through the pages of the magazine on the table.

“Is he doing any research?”

“Nothing like that. During my stay for six years in states, I developed passion for reading books, magazines and journals relating to medical subjects. That habit is continuing. That’s all! I ruminate about what I read and try to put into practice as far as possible.  I am not doing any research as such.”

“Research is exactly what you do!”

“No. No.  Research is a kind of deep meditation. A state of unwavering yogic trance. The enzyme or the bacteria you are searching for becomes the divine and oblivious to the world around, all your attention in thought, word and deed should be diverted towards that. For such an inquirer his lab becomes the Naimisha Forest.  I don’t stand a chance….” Replied Ravindra looking deep into the horizon with a desperate air.

A Seagull passed them by with a squawk.

With his attention diverted, Manohar remarked, “My god! When you have reached Naimisha from Bangkok that means you have completed one circle.  But forget about it. Look here. This makes a very interesting reading. He started reading from the interview of Björn Borg published in Time magazine: ‘Borg says: once I step into the court and start playing, a kind of overwhelming confidence seizes me saying… so long as I am there how could anybody win? I am the superman in the court. I must be there where the ball lands… and suddenly a new idea flashes in my mind… and I play a very unconventional shot that was not there in the copybook.  People may get bewildered. But it seems so natural to me. As the idea in the brain traverses through hand and meets the ball, there is nothing comparable to the rhythm. That is my empire.  My writ rules there. My shot cannot miss its aim. It is a kind of dreamy state. A blissful state…”

Manohar took a break and said, “We care to read these words just because the person who spoke them was a dexterous Arjuna of the Tennis world. Had they been uttered by any other mortal, we would just brush them aside dubbing them as the prattle of a pervert.”

“So true! It is hard to believe.” Said Rayman.

Ravi said, “If somebody on the top of a hill hails there is a village on the other side, it is quite natural for the man at the foot of the hill this side to scoff at him saying, “You mean a village? On that side of the hill? You want me to believe? Don’t take me for a fool”.  But, Manohar, Borg is no mean mortal.  He was a Yogi, who started his career at a tender age of 15, and left no Himalayan peak in Tennis world unconquered planting his flag of authority. It is beyond our imagination what kind of devotion, unswerving determination and uncompromising practice.  Just read further, you will come to know.”

“You are correct. All through the year, Borg practices a minimum of 4 hours each day without fail.  Once he wanted to bring a slight change in his service.  They say, he practiced hat small change for two hours every day for two weeks.” Manohar read out from the magazine.

“Because he had such kind of devotion, his body could translate into action what his mind has planned about.  Didn’t our people say ‘wherever the mind hovers, the world follows suit?’  Borg has proved those very words hat world walks the way your mind thinks.  In a way, this proves the ‘bio-feedback system’ in medicine,” Ravi was going on.

Boy interrupted him and said, “Sir! There is a phone call for you.”

He went in to answer the call.

“Hello!”

“Ravi! Are you still at the club?”

“Yes. Are you feeling better now?”

“Fine.  I thought of going out somewhere if you turn up early.”

“It is already past seven. There is an important case at the hospital. After tha…”

“Is it the same Mrs. Khambatta?”

“Yes dear! Her condition continues to be critical.”

“……………………..”

“Hello! Hello Meena!”

“I am here only…. Where can I go? After all?”

“There again. No.  You should not get into depression… switch on TV… In another half-an-hour there is a program by your favorite singer Janaki.”

“I liked your suggestion Ravi!”

“Why?”

“Like Janaki in Asoka Garden I will be here; and songs of Janaki shall keep me company… very appropriate!”

“Then Mrs. Janaki! Then, am I Sri Ram or Ravan?”

“I suppose you are only Sri Ram. Even if you are a Ravan, it is OK with me.”

“What do you mean Meena?”

“I say, it is important to have love for Sita. Had he not, Ravan would not have taken her away.”

“Agreed. I will be there by 8.30. OK?”

“OK.”

By the time he returned taking the call, Rayman and Manohar also got up to leave. Within the next five minutes the three cars had started.

An old model Austin car of Dr. Ravi stopped at the hospital portico.

“Good evening Dr.!”

Bowing his head in response to the greeting of the Anglo-Indian nurse at the reception, he went upstairs to his room. He searched under M in the Index of the filing system for a case file.

He got it.

“Malini Khambatta… admission: 26th July…” That means 28 days had passed since she was admitted.

Ravi was going through the history of the case…

*

Malini Khambatta.

34 years of age. ED of a shipping co.

Her husband is a Squadron Leader undergoing training in Russia now. Her 12 years son is studying in Doon Public School.

She came to Delhi from Bombay only 2 weeks before admission. After holding consultations with government she visited Tokyo. From there she dashed to Singapore to settle the issue when the staff of a stranded ship of theirs went on strike. From there she had been to Colombo. As she got down at Madras airport she had slight fever. As night progressed she developed acute body ache. By next morning she had a peculiar sensation of her fingers.

She joined the hospital at 8 am. They conducted some preliminary clinical tests and started palliative treatment. By the fifth day she developed difficulty in moving her neck, fingers hands, and legs. Her ESR was found to be over 80.  Within the next three days it crossed 115.  Her movements gradually became difficult. She started developing lesions under the skin.

He conducted all possible tests on her. Discussed   the case with fellow experts. They found it hard to diagnose it. Ultimately, they noticed that the Collagen, which binds the cells of various tissues with one another got poisoned.  And it has reached the tissue in the backbone. Consequently, all the body tissues are disintegrating into millions and millions of cell pieces. After two-days of prolonged discussions they decided it was Ankylosing Spondylitis . And the unanimous opinion of the experts was that it was impossible for her to get out of it.

Ravi consented to their opinion but was not wholly convinced.

He locked himself alone for five to six hours and seriously brooded over that.

*

That evening sitting beside Malini’s bed and said, “Listen to me Mrs. Malini!  Pay attention to what I am about to say.  You are well educated, knowledgeable and have seen the world. So treating you as my friend I want to put facts before you…” He gave a brief about her disease. “Statistics say that the chances of survival for people afflicted with this disease is one in five hundred.  I don’t care about the other for hundred and ninety nine people.  I want you to be that one off chance and back to normalcy attending to your routine. But, here is the challenge. I cannot do alone nor can medicines alone bring about the turnaround. Your cooperation is absolutely necessary. At no point of time you show signs of despair.” He paused looking into her face for reactions.

She was ears to what he was saying. Ravi continued…

“You have a long life ahead. There are many things you have to achieve. You must be determined to achieve them all. And I should convince me. Then together we can raise a war cry against the disease.”

She smiled. Though she had to struggle to say what she did, she did not relent.

“Doctor! I could bring a turnaround within three years in the loss-ridden shipping company. I could shut up the mouths of people who doubted my ability pointing out my gender. There is a project at hand.  Our country is far behind in container shipping. I have dreams to diversify my company into it and serve the nation. Even if I were confined to this bed, take it from me, I am going do it…”

Ravi raised his eyebrows in surprise. She continued…

“Last year I joined as a student under Ustad Hafiz Khan to learn Sitar. It is my dream to give at least one solo concert within the next four years.  That is a promise I made to Amar. Amar is my husband. I keep my promise. When I have such a promising life ahead, be that I have a one in five hundred chance, when I get the support of a doctor like you, I will certainly come out  of this abyss taking the support of your hand.” There was a glow of hope in her eyes and as she lifted her hand with all effort to indicate her will, Ravi took her hand and said, “That’s what self-confidence is! We have already won half-the –battle.  From tomorrow we are going to start a new treatment.”

That night Ravi did not go home.

“Will this adventurous attempt succeed?  Can I achieve what I wanted?  Can she with sheer self-confidence and I with the support of bare minimum of medicines regenerate her interior body parts which are ready to crumble to pieces any moment? Will all his assurances reduce to empty promises?”

This very common challenge every honest doctor faces in his life, stood before him assuming global proportions!

Before this body, every inch of which looks an endless stream of wonders so long as it works smoothly, years of study and decades of experience comes no nought and will be silenced once there occurs a small error in its rhythm. Is it its dismissal “Huh, what do you know after all?” or a warning that “there is a lot you should learn still”?

Be that the bio-chemistry prepares umpteen formulaic preparations, no body resembles another. We cannot say with certainty that for the same disease, the same medicine works identically on two bodies.  Even in such an enigmatic state, if medicines seem to work, perhaps it is not medicines alone that cure! There is something incomprehensible that helps the cure!

For classification sake all species of mangoes come under Mangifera Indica. But each of them has its own unique taste. So is the body, each with its own character no matter it resembles every other in broad design, shape and matter.

Yaramita vanamalinaa sakhii!” (Confidante! She who consummates with Vanamali…!) is one of the most popular Octrains that swelled from the pen of Jayadeva. When Balamurali renders, it would expound the angst behind, when Ghantasala renders it would be holistic and sweet, and while Bhanumati renders it, the melody would kindle a sweat twinge. Where lies the difference? What do you call it?  Personal identity!

There it is! There lies the secret!

It was like epiphany! The truth he randomly witnessed on different occasions elsewhere seemed to have taken form to appear before him.

He started reading the research medical journals more thoroughly. He went through the latest issue of “Lancet”, “Chemical and Biological Interact”.  He had earlier studied Walter Bradford Cannon of “Wisdom of the Body” fame, René Dubos, Blackwell, Arthur K Shapiro, but today their research, experiments and works seemed converging one end. Today when he reread them, he was seized with inexplicable inspiration. In that lone insulated meditative state he had the revelation of Placebo.

Placebo was a mystic divine damsel Mohini holding the pot of Nectar in her hand.

That which is, yet it is not, is Placebo; that which is a myth but makes its presence felt is Placebo.

If the commonest of the commoners Peri becomes a king, it is Placebo.

Placebo means “I will please” in Latin.

Placebo is an imitation medicine.

If you can manufacture a sugar tablet which looks exactly like the medicinal tablet, it is placebo.

When the patient asks for a medicine repeatedly, the medicine administered to just please him (not that it cures his disease) is placebo. Normally, in the experimental stage of a new medicine on trial, doctors give placebo.

When Ravi was in US, he read the articles and speeches of Arthur K Shapiro, Henry K. Beecher, and Louis Lasagna on Placebo Effect. They wrote that placebos not only look like real medicines, but also act like them.

But in the present state, it seemed that if mind is the fulcrum of the body, the force that conjuncts the two is placebo. It explained body is different from the mind. Placebo is the elixir that transforms the strong desire of the patient ‘to live’ into life-giving medicine and presents it to the body.

With renewed vigor Ravi got up.

He explained to the duty doctor what he should do and instructed him to keep everything ready by nine next day.

He left for home.

Wall clock showed it was 4 am.

Before stretching out he looked at the bottle on the table. It was Gardenal!

Meenakshi might be suffering from sleeplessness. But he advised her not to use Gardenal.

Poor Meenakshi! Because of her heart trouble she took long leave from her college. He was not able to spend more time with her. Their daughter Vijaya studying medicine also looked busy with her studies, games, picnics and other activities and with her friends and did not have time for her mother.

As Meenakshi turned aside in her sleep, the vermillion on her forehead glistened red even in that scarce lighting. He kissed her on her forehead and eased on his bed.

He was fast asleep.

“Malini! You are great! Let us unite and defeat…”

Meenakshi got up from her sleep with alarm. Ravi was saying something in his sleep.

“When did he come home? When she called the hospital in the evening the duty nurse answered that he instructed them not to disturb him even if there was a call from home.

“What’s that work? Why he chants the name of Malini? What is the nature of their ‘union?’ Who do they want to defeat?”

As the tranquilizing effect of the medicine ceased, Meenakshi got suspicious and angry.

After ten minutes, it was Ravi’s turn to get up agitated.

Ravi gave injection to Meenakshi who was wriggling with chest pain. He took her into his lap and explained her everything. She heard him patiently.

“But he was not like this. He had treated so many women patients before but he never talked in sleep like this. What does it all mean? What’s happening to Ravi?

“Am I losing my attraction after having entered forties? Is there a vacuum growing because of my ill-health? Or that both of them are unable to cope up with their darling daughter Vijaya taking off to wings having come off age? Am I losing Ravi because I was seriously engaged in my teaching and college administration work, until three months before?  Or with nothing else to do, am I demanding from Ravi more than before when I was busy with my own life?”

He took her in his lap and gently caressed her locks and cheeks with fingers filled with love, compassion and concern. But that could not alleviate her pain, and the physical closeness was in stark contrast to how far she felt aloof from him.

Everything he said just remained empty words.

After a while her pain ceased and slowly slipped into sleep.

Ravi felt like a bird endowed with wings but restrained to take off. He was overwhelmed with compassion for Meenakshi but felt helpless. He caressed her locks, as wavering as her mind, once again and set her properly on the bed.  He called out the hospital and asked for a nurse to be sent home.  He got up.

“For the first time Meenakshi complained of burning sensation in her stomach. She never had such complaint before. What new complication is up for challenge?” he thought as he completed his shaving and bath. The coking maid did not turn up.  He made a bread toast for himself and put some coffee in flask for Meenakshi.

He reached hospital by nine.

He visited Malini’s room.  She greeted him with a smile, like a lightning amidst clouds.

He greeted her back with a “Good morning,” and turning towards duty doctor asked, “Is everything ready?”

“Yes, Sir!” he replied.

“Then let them bring the medicine here.”  Duty doctor went out to bring the material Ravi asked for.

“Maliniji! The journey begins… I am now going to administer you a medicine that has never been used before. Besides this, I will put on an intravenous drip. While one attacks the disease, the other gives additional strength to the body. Together they should drive off your pain forever.”

The duty doctor and the nurse returned. Ravi gave Malini injection and put on the drip.  Then sitting beside Malini’s bed he said,

“You remember what I told you the other day?  Your body constitution took a beating because of undergoing extreme stress. It is time for you relax absolutely.  You should keep a happy disposition by keep smiling and reading funny, humorous and amusing stories. You may read Wodehouse, Herriot, James Thurber, James Thorne Smith Jr., etc.  All these books are available with Sister Mary Kutty.  She will read them to you for one or two hours daily.  I will send you some collections of Jokes. Every evening you should recount the best joke you read or heard. OK?”

She expressed her consent with her eyes.

He came out of her room. As he was about to enter his room he was reminded of the Tyagaraja Kriti, “For the great man who has control over his mind, of what use are the mantras and machinations?”. And he laughed within himself rationalizing “if it is that easy for everybody to control his mind, who will remember you and us, Swamy Tyagaraja!!!”

After completing his rounds and attending to other work, he visited Malini again.  She was blissfully asleep needing no sleeping pill. He immediately got the ESR tested. It was down by 9 points. In a matter of 4 hours the direction of the disease had taken definite turn.  Is the enemy beating the retreat?

He reached home.

Meenakshi was awake.

Nurse went out after seeing him.

“How are you darling?” She laughed sorrowfully.

“Do you have pain still?”

“I don’t think so. But it is dull.”

“May be it’s the side effect of the medicine. Let me get you some invigorating soup.”

He went into the kitchen and asked the maid to prepare a soup to his prescription, and brought it to her.

“Ravi! Take your dinner first…”

“You take the soup first.  I take my meal only after that.  After that the King and the Queen shall sit together and review the world situation… that is the agenda tonight…”

Meenakshi laughed.

He returned within fifteen minutes finishing off his meal.

“What’s this? You did not take even half of the soup?” he asked.

“Enough Ravi! Thank you!”

He looked at her enquiringly with his eyes as if asking “why this ‘formal’ conversation?”

Meenakshi was looking out of the window. The sky was overcast. A faint sun-less luminescence.

After five minutes she uttered, “Ravi! I want to join duty.”

“Meena!  Your heart rate has not stabilized.  You may not be able to stand the stress of teaching, administration and meetings…”

She nodded her head in disagreement and said, “No Ravi! I am unable to put up with this stress of sitting idly.  Routine is the best shield for my unrest. So, shall I join duties from Monday?”

Thinking for a while Ravi said weighing his words, “As a doctor, I can see the merit of your argument. But as a husband, I cannot accept your request Meena!”

She laughed but there was no life in it.

He waited for her to say something. But when she did not say anything for a while, he said “Come on Meena! You wanted to say something. Get it off your chest. That is good for your health.”

“Ravi!”

“Yes!”

“You said that ‘as a husband I don’t allow you to go.” It was so pleasant to hear. As your wife I ask you one thing. Do you agree?”

“Tell me,”

“Come on. Let us go to Kulu or Manali for one week.  Can you come?”

“….”

“Tell me Ravi! Shall we?”

Ravi did not say anything for two minutes. It was raining outside.

“I know Ravi! You want to come.  But you have a compelling work. If you leave that, you won’t be peaceful even in Heaven.  I don’t blame you for that.  But that is also the case with me.  My work needs me and I need my work as badly.”

“What you said is true, Meena. But, I think it is not fair.”

“No, Ravi.  You can’t abandon your work for my sake.  And leaving my work, I can’t sit in front of you idly for what you are going to say.  We have passed that romantic age.  It is quite natural that each of us try to find a meaning for our lives. There is no need to feel guilty about it.”

“But Meena! There are two things here… The first thing is that my asking you not to join duties is not for my sake but keeping in view your health. I love to spend eons with you. What I say now is not for myself.  And the second thing… our streams of life have been flowing merged for over twenty five years. But why is this Sahara all of a sudden?  Why is this very dry logic?”

“When the magic of life has vanished, all that is left is only logic, Ravi!  Besides, I am a history Professor. I can only speak dry words, not any damp or moist words. When I made a matter-of-fact statement, you felt it like that.”

“Meena!”…  He took her into his arms. But he felt, it would have been better if she had taken him into hers.

…No… There was no response in the two bodies.

The rain stopped outside.  The clouds cleared.  But there is no trace of dawn.

*

Four weeks passed in the same vein. Meenakshi joined duty. But surprisingly she called him when he was at the Tennis Club.

“It’s fine even if he were a Ravana, but enough if he had love for her…” that’s what she said. What did he, then, do or not do?

As he was browsing through the case sheet, duty doctor had arrived.

“How is Malini?” he asked.

“She is able to sit up on her own, sir!”

“Good! I visit her during the rounds,” he noted his observations on the case sheet before filing.

In the last four weeks Malini’s health had improved beyond expectations. ESR had almost come to normal. Placebo had really worked wonders. Within three weeks she was relieved of all her knee pains. She was able to sit up with some minor support.  In another four to five weeks she should be able to walk on her own. That would mean he had got an answer for a teething problem.

Has mind control over body?  Now, he would be able to give a positive answer with supporting proof. He has to consolidate all his trials and results and write a detailed Paper for the journal.

He entered her room.

“Hello doctor!” Malini greeted him first.

“How are you Mrs. Malini?”

“Very fine. Am I the successful one of the one-in-five hundred odds?”

“Yes.  You have proved it. What is that? A letter from Amar?” he asked.  He remembered her entreaty not to disclose her condition to her husband.

“Yes… the same routine stuff… that Vodka is nauseating.  By the way, when can I get up and walk, doctor?”

“Whenever you feel you can. Whenever you feel motivated to walk.”

“Is it?” he eyes widened in surprise. “Then let me get off this throne tomorrow itself,” she mimed a queenly posture.

“Who is there?” Ravi extended the mime with a clap of hands as if calling somebody at the door.

They both laughed.

“By the way, shall I recount today’s joke?  This is vintage wit… of Charles Dickens. A male character created by Dickens says like this to others: ‘look here boys!  I always follow my wife’s advice on all matters related to home.  She has that sharp wit.  But, I refuse to admit it in her presence.  You ask me why? It’s a matter of discipline!  Don’t you think there must be discipline at home? For that!’”

He joined her laughter.

“The acronym MCP was created exactly for such people. Isn’t it?”

“She looked at him questioningly what MCP meant.

“Male Chauvinistic Pig”

She laughed again.

“Doctor! Doctor!!  Yesterday I received a surprise post.”

“What’s that?”

“My Ustadji sent a cassette of his rendering of Rag Jaijavanti.  That’s just divine! You must hear it when you can find time. That is not Sitar at play… just a replay of Cosmic Dance of Shiva by Parijata flowers… an overwhelming rain of stars…

As she was speaking vivaciously Ravi thought within… Like a bird hopping from one branch to another, how many dreams, and how many goals has she! She will certainly regain complete health. Move around and would achieve what she wanted.  She would live a fruitful life of hundred years. That is the power of the mind!

Following night Ravi asked Meenakshi “About one month back you proposed to me going to Kulu. Shall we go there next week?”

“Sorry dear! Just two weeks passed since I took a long leave. It does not look nice if I go on one-week leave again. That too, being a Principal…”

Ravi nodded his head.  Life takes very strange turns… In Greek Drama … they call it Nemesis… he recalled.

That was full moon day of Sravana month.

Ravi who went out to attend a meeting in the morning, reached hospital by noon.

Staff nurse informed him that Mrs. Malini had enquired for him many times.

“I see.”

Apprehensive of some complication cropping up he went into her room with acute concern.  She was quite normal.  The vermillion in the furrow of her hairline was shining bright. She got down the bed and approached him putting her steps steadily.

When she said, “Doctor Brother! Today is Rakhi Poornima.  I am waiting to tie this Rakhi to you since morning…” she was really surprised. He held out his right fore arm.

She tied the Rakhi. She tried to touch his feet for his blessing and since she was not in full control of her body she staggered. He lent support preventing her falling down.  Malini put her hand on Ravi’s shoulder for support. And as she was walking towards her bed gasping for breath…

Exactly at that moment…

Meenakshi made a terrible shriek “R…A…V…I…!”

Ravi looked back. He saw Meenakshi desperately trying to take table for support before collapsing to the ground.

Needing Ravi’s signature on a joint account Meenakshi hurried to hospital in her car from college and not finding him in his room, she came searching for him in the ward.

***

Ravi was dozing in the sofa outside the ICU, struggling to keep awake.

A milk van stopped on the street outside making a lot of noise.  It shook off his sleep. He looked at the watch.  It was 5.52.  He peeped into the ICU and looked enquiringly towards nurse about Meenakshi. Her looks conveyed her condition was steady. Another 24 hours should pass.

He returned to his place and watched out through the window. Milk van was leaving. There was an artificial pond in the foreyard. The lotuses which shone bright under the full moon last night looked wan and shriveled. He looked towards the orient sky. There was a spray of crimson on the eastern horizon. Sun was readying to appear.

On the other side of the road, at the tea stall, “Suukti Muktavali” (Pearls of wisdom) commenced. He could hear clearly:

“One begets the results from Mantra (holy hymn), Tirtha (holy water), astrologer, doctor, and guru commensurate with the opinion you hold about them.”

Yes. He has to consult another specialist. When she cannot hold respect for him as a person, how could she hold respect for him as a doctor?  More than his personal feelings or his failure as a doctor, her life is more valuable.

For her to survive, her cooperation was imperative. That was fundamental.

He walked into his room and dialed Dr. Agarwal.

Elsewhere in the hospital, an attendant nurse was writing a letter to Amar as Malini was dictating her.

 

Translation:

RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty

Read Placebo (http://kathanilayam.com/story/pdf/2065 ) here

 

మనిషి – సింప్లాన్ మహాపర్వతం… మాగ్జీం గోర్కీ 

ఎప్పుడూ మంచుతోకప్పబడి ఉండే మహాపర్వతాల మధ్య ఆ స్వచ్ఛమైన సరస్సు ఉంది. ఆ కనుమలమధ్య దట్టమైన ఉద్యానవనాలు నీటి అంచుదాకా పరుచుకున్నాయి. ఒడ్డునున్న తెల్లటి ఇళ్ళు, నిర్మలమైన నీటిలో పంచదార బిళ్ళల్లా ప్రతిఫలిస్తున్నాయి. పరిసరాలంతటా నిద్రిస్తున్న పిల్లవాడి ప్రశాంతత పరుచుకుంది.

ఉదయం కావొచ్చింది. కొండలవాలులోని తోటలనుండి విరుస్తున్న పువ్వులపరిమళం సన్నగా తేలుతూ నాలుగుచెరగులా వ్యాపిస్తోంది. అప్పుడే సూర్యుడు ఉదయించాడు. చెట్ల ఆకులకీ, పూరేకులకీ ఇంకా వదల్లేక అంటిపెట్టుకున్న మంచు మెరుస్తోంది. ఆ ప్రశాంతమైన పర్వతప్రాంతంలోంచి, రాళ్ళతో వేసినదే అయినా, ముఖ్మలులా మెత్తగా, దాన్ని ఒకసారి తాకాలని కోర్కె రగిల్చే నల్లటి రిబ్బనులాటి రోడ్డు ఒకటి చొచ్చుకొనిపోతోంది.

రోడ్డు ప్రక్కన రాళ్ళగుట్టదగ్గర నల్లని కీటకంలా పనివాడొకడు కూర్చుని ఉన్నాడు; అతని గుండెమీద ఒక పతకం వేలాడుతోంది. అతని ముఖం ప్రస్ఫుటంగా గంభీరంగా ఉన్నా ప్రసన్నంగానే ఉంది.

ఎండలో పనిచేసి పనిచేసి నలుపెక్కిన చేతుల్ని ముణుకులమీద పెట్టుకుని, పక్కన చెస్ట్ నట్ (బాదంవంటి చెట్టు) నీడలో సేదదీరుతున్న బాటసారుల ముఖాల్లోకి తొంగిచూస్తూ ఇలా అంటున్నాడు:

“దొరలూ! ఇది సింప్లాన్ మహాపర్వతం. ఈ సింప్లాన్ సొరంగం తవ్వకంలో పనిచేసినందుకే నాకీ పతకాన్నిచ్చేరు,”

అంటూ,కళ్ళుక్రిందకి వాల్చి మెరుస్తున్న ఆ పతకంవైపు మురిపెంగా సంతృప్తిగా చూసేడు.

“ఓహ్ అదా! ఏ పనైనా మొదట కష్టంగా ఉంటుంది అలవాటుపడేదాకా. ఒకసారి అలవాటు పడ్డాక అదే సుళువుగా అనిపిస్తుంది. అయినా, ఆ తవ్వకంపని మాత్రం నిజంగా చాలా కష్టమైంది.”

సూర్యుడివంక చూస్తూ, కొద్దిగా తలతాటించేడు; ఆలోచనలలోంచి బైటపడి, వెళుతున్నవారివంక చేతులూపేడు. నల్లని అతని కళ్ళలో ఏదో మెరుపు ఉంది.

“నాకు అప్పుడప్పుడు భయమేసేది. ఈ భూమికికూడా మనలాగే నొప్పి ఉంటుంది కదా? అని. మీకు అలా అనిపించదా?  మేము చాలా లోతుకి సొరంగం తవ్విన తర్వాత, ఆ కొండలకి లోతుగా అంతగాయం చేసిన తర్వాత, సహజంగానే ఈ నేల మాతో చాలా మొరటుగా ప్రవర్తించింది.  మా ముఖాలమీద వేడి గాలి ఊదింది. దాంతో మాకు గుండె ఆగినంత పనైంది. మా తల తిరగడం ప్రారంభించి ఎముకలు సలపడం ప్రారంభించేయి. మాలో చాలామందికి ఇలాంటి అనుభవమే కలిగింది. తర్వాత తల్లి భూదేవికి కోపం వచ్చి పిల్లలమీద రాళ్ళవర్షం కురిపించింది. మామీద వేడినీళ్ళు గుమ్మరించింది. దొరా, నిజం, అప్పుడు గొప్పభయమేసిందనుకో. అప్పుడప్పుడు, టార్చిలైటు వెలుగులో ఆ నీళ్ళు ఎర్రగా కనిపించేవి. మా నాన్న అంటుండేవాడు, మనం తల్లి భూదేవిని గాయపరిచేం; అందుకని ఆ అమ్మ మనల్నందరినీ ఆమె తన రక్తంలో ముంచి, సలసలా మరిగించి చంపుతుంది…  ‘నువ్వు అది కళ్ళారా చూస్తావు’  అని.

అదంతా కేవలం ఊహే! అయితేనేం, అంత లోతు సొరంగంలో, చిమ్మ చీకట్లో, చేతులకీ కాళ్ళకీ ఒంటికీ చెమ్మతగులుతూ ఊపిరాడకుండాఉన్న వాతావరణంలో ఒకప్రక్క చిమ్ముతన్న నీరు, మరొకవంక రాతినిదొలుస్తూ మిషను చప్పుడుచేస్తున్న సమయంలో  ఎవరైనా అలాంటి మాటలు వింటే, అందులో నిజం ఎంత అబద్ధం ఎంత అన్న విచక్షణ క్షణకాలం ఎవరికీ కలగదు. దొరా, అక్కడ అంతా అద్భుతంగా ఉంటుంది. మేము మనుషులం చూడబోతే లిల్లిపుట్లలా ఎంతో అల్పులం; మేము దాని కడుపులోకి సొరంగం తవ్వుతున్న మహాపర్వతం చూడబోతే ఆకాశం అంచుల్ని తాకుతోంది. ఆ అంతరాన్ని అర్థంచేసుకోవాలంటే, మీరు కళ్ళారా చూసితీరవలసిందే! ఒకప్రక్క నల్లగా నోరు తెరుచుకున్నట్టు మేము తవ్విన సొరంగం; సూర్యాస్తమయం తర్వాత అందులోకి చొరబడిన మాలాంటి అల్పజీవులు; తనను విడిచి భూమి సొరంగంలోకి వెళ్తున్న మాలాంటి వాళ్లని సూర్యుడు ఎంతజాలిగా చూస్తాడో తెలుసా! మీరు మా మిషన్లనీ, అలా తీవ్రంగా చూస్తున్న పర్వతాలనీ చూసి తీరాల్సిందే! అక్కడి గరగరలూ, పిచ్చివాడి నవ్వులాంటి పేలుళ్ళూ వినాల్సిందే.”

అతను తన చేతులవంక చూసుకున్నాడు. అతని నీలి కోటుమీద పతకాన్ని సరిగ్గా సవరించుకొని ఒక నిట్టూర్పు విడిచాడు.

“మనిషికి ఎలా కష్టపడాలో తెలుసు,” అంటూ మళ్ళీ ప్రారంభించాడు. ఆ మాటల్లో గర్వం తొంగిచూస్తోంది. “దొరా! మనిషి అల్పుడే. కానీ అతను పనిచెయ్యాలని గట్టిగా నిశ్చయించుకుంటే, అతన్ని ఎదిరించగల శక్తి మాత్రం సృష్టిలో లేదు! నా మాట నమ్మండి, చివరకి, ఈ అల్పుడైన మనిషే తాను అనుకున్నది సాధిస్తాడు. మా నాన్న మొదట్లో అది నమ్మలేదు.

“‘ఒక దేశంలోంచి మరొక దేశంలోకి కొండ తవ్వడమా? అది, దేశాలని పర్వతాల హద్దులతో నిర్ణయించిన భగవంతుని సంకల్పానికి విరుద్ధం; మేరీమాత అనుగ్రహం మనమీద ఉండదు!’ అన్నాడు. కానీ ఆ ముసలాడు పొరబడ్డాడు.  మేరీమాత ఆమెని ఎవరుప్రేమిస్తే వారివైపు ఉంటుంది. కొన్నాళ్ళు గడిచిన తర్వాత, ఇప్పుడు నేను ఆలోచిస్తున్నట్టు, మీతో మనసువిప్పి మాటాడుతున్నట్టు, అతనుకూడా ఆలోచించడం ప్రారంభించేడు. ఎందుకంటే అతనికి తను పర్వతాలకంటే బలవంతుడినన్న అభిప్రాయం కలిగింది. కానీ, అప్పుడప్పుడు, శలవుల్లోనో, ప్రక్కని మందుసీసాతో టేబిలుదగ్గరకూచున్నప్పుడో,  నాతోనూ, తక్కినవాళ్లటోనూ ఇలా అంటుండేవాడు:

 “‘భగవంతుని బిడ్డలారా!’… అంటూ ఎత్తుకునేవాడు. అతనికి అలా పిలవడం చాలా ఇష్టం. అతనిది వెన్నలా మెత్తని మనసు. ‘భగవంతుని బిడ్డలారా! మీరు నేలతో అలా పోరాడకూడదు. మీరు చేసిన గాయాలకి ఎప్పుడో ఒకప్పుడు ఆమె పగ తీర్చుకుంటుంది. ఆమె మీకు జయించశక్యం కాదు. మీరే చూద్దురుగాని! మనం అలా కొండ లోపలకి, భూదేవి గుండెకాయదాకా చొచ్చుకుపోయిన తర్వాత, ఆ గుండెకాయని ముట్టుకున్న మరుక్షణం మనందర్నీ మాడ్చి మసిచేస్తుంది. మనమీద నిప్పులు కురిపిస్తుంది. ఎందుకంటే భూమి గుండెల్లో నిప్పుంది గనుక. ఆ సత్యం మనకందరికీ తెలిసిందే! వ్యవసాయం చెయ్యడం అంటే, ఆమె ప్రసవానికి మనం సహాయం చేస్తున్నట్టు లెక్క.  మనల్ని అలా చెయ్యమనే భగవంతుడు ఆదేశించాడు.  మనం ఇప్పుడు భూదేవి రూపురేఖల్ని పాడుచేస్తున్నాం. దాని ఆకారాన్ని మారుస్తున్నాం. గుర్తుపెట్టుకోండి! మనం ఎంతలోతుకి వెళుతుంటామో, లోపల గాలి అంత వేడెక్కుతూ మనకి ఊపిరి పీల్చుకోవడం అంత కష్టం అయిపోతుంది.”

ఆ మనిషి ప్రశాంతంగా చిరునవ్వు నవ్వుతూ అతని రెండుచేతులతో మీసం అంచుల్ని మెలేస్తుండేవాడు.

“అలా ఆలోచించింది అతనొక్కడే కాదు. అతనన్నది నిజం. మేము లోపలికి వెళుతున్నకొద్దీ గాలి వేడిగా ఉండేది. మనుషులు నేలమీద సాగిలపడేవారు. అక్కడి వేడినీటి చెలమలనుండి ఆవిర్లుకక్కుతున్న నీరు ఒక్కసారి పెల్లుబుకుతూ వచ్చేది. ఒక్కసారి కూప్పకూలిపోయినట్టనిపించేది. లుగానో నుండి వచ్చిన మా తోటిపనివాళ్ళిద్దరికి పిచ్చిపట్టింది. రాత్రిపూట బారకాసుల్లో మాలో చాలామందిమి అపస్మారకంలో ఉన్నవాళ్లలా మాటాడేవాళ్లం. భయంతో అరుస్తూ, గెంతులేస్తూ నిద్రలోంచి లేస్తుండేవాళ్లం.

“‘నే చెప్పలేదూ?’ అనేవాడు మా నాన్న, కళ్ళల్లో భయంతో, దగ్గుతూ దగ్గుతూ, రాను రాను అతని గొంతు బొంగురుపోతుంటే. అవును దొరా! అలానే అనే వాడు. ‘నే చెప్పలేదూ? భూదేవిని జయించడం మనవల్ల కాదు!’

“ఆఖరుసారిగా ముసలాయన మంచం ఎక్కేడు. అయినా అతను మంచి మనోబలంగలవాడు. మూడువారాల పాటు మృత్యువుతో చాలా ధైర్యంగా పోరాడేడు. తన విలువ తనకి తెలిసినవ్యక్తిలా ఎన్నడూ ఎవరినీ నిందించలేదు.

“‘పాలో! నేను వచ్చిన పని అయిపోయింది.’ అన్నాడు ఒక రోజు రాత్రి నాతో. ‘నీ ఆరోగ్యం జాగ్రత్తగా చూసుకో! ఇంటికి తిరిగి వెళ్ళిపో! మేరీమాత నిన్ను దయతో చూడుగాక!’

“అలాఅన్న చాల సేపటివరకు ఏం మాటాడలేదు; ముఖం చేతుల్లో కప్పుకున్నాడు. ఊపిరి సలపదేమోనన్నంత భయం వేసింది.”

ఆ మనిషి లేచి నిలుచున్నాడు. మహాపర్వతం వంక చూసి ఒక్కసారి గట్టిగా ఒళ్ళు విరుచుకున్నాడు … కీళ్ళూ, మెటికలూ పటపటమనేలా.

“దొరా! అతను నా చెయ్యి తన చేతులోకి తీసుకుని, నన్ను దగ్గరగా పొదువుకుని ఇలా అన్నాడు. దొరా! నేను నిజమే చెబుతున్నా!

“‘కొడకా, పాలో! నువ్వో విషయం తెలుసుకో! ఇన్ని అనుకుంటున్నా, నా కనిపిస్తుంది మనం సాధించగలమని. పర్వతానికి ఇటునుంచి వెళుతున్న మనం, అటునుంచి వస్తున్న వాళ్ళూ, మధ్యలో ఎక్కడో కలుసుకుంటాం అని. నువ్వు నమ్మగలవా? ‘

“నాకు ఆ నమ్మకం ఉంది, నాన్నా!’

“అయితే, కొడకా, అది నువ్వు సాధించాలి. ప్రతీదీ అనుకూలంగా ముగుస్తాయన్న పూర్తి విశ్వాసంతో పనిచెయ్యాలి. మేరీమాత దయవల్ల భగవంతుడు మంచివాళ్ళ ప్రార్థనలు విని సహాయం చేస్తాడని నమ్మాలి. కొడకా నీన్నొక ఆఖరికోరిక కోరుతున్నాను. అనుకున్నట్టుగా జరిగి, అటువాళ్ళూ ఇటూవాళ్ళూ సొరంగంలో కలుసుకున్న తర్వాత, నా సమాధిదగ్గరకి వచ్చి, ‘నాన్నా, అనుకున్నట్టుగా జరిగింది! ‘ అని బిగ్గరగా చెప్పు నాకు తెలిసేలా!’

“’అలాగే నాన్నా!’ అని మాట ఇచ్చేను.  నేను మాట ఇచ్చిన 5 రోజులకి ఆయన మరణించేడు.  మరణించడానికి రెండురోజులముందు, తను సొరంగంలో ఎక్కడ చివరిసారిగా పనిచేసేడో అక్కడ సమాధి చెయ్యమని కోరాడు. అతను కడసారి ప్రార్థనలు చేశాడుగాని, అదంతా అపస్మారకంలో చేసినది.

“సరిగ్గా మా తండ్రి చనిపోయిన 13 వారాల తర్వాత, మేమూ, అటుపక్కనుండి పర్వతంలో సొరంగం తవ్వుకుంటూ వచ్చిన వాళ్ళూ కలుసుకున్నాం.  దొరా! ఏం చెప్పమంటారు! అదొక పిచ్చి ఆనందం కమ్ముకున్న రోజు. ఆ చిమ్మ చీకట్లో, నేలమాళిగలో, అవతలి ప్రక్క పనివారి మాటలు, మమ్మల్ని  కలుసుకుందికి వస్తున్నవారి మాటలు మొదటిసారి లీలగా వినిపించిన తర్వాత… దొరా, మీరు ఊహించండి, అల్పులైన మాలాటివాళ్లని తన బరువుతో పచ్చడి చెయ్యగల అపరిమితమైన బలంకలిగిన భూమి బరువుక్రింద, ఒక్కసారి అలా కలుసుకోవడం ఎంత బాగుంటుందో!

“కొన్ని రోజులపాటు ఆ గరగరలు విన్నాం. రోజు రోజుకీ ఆ మాటలు స్పష్టంగానూ, బిగ్గరగానూ, అవడం ప్రారంభించడంతో, మాలో విజేతలలో ఉండే ఉత్తేజం ఆవహించి, మేము రాక్షసులమన్నట్లూ, మాకు అసలు శరీరంగాని, అలసటగాని లేనట్టూ, మాకు ఏ నిర్దేశనం అక్కరలేనట్టూ, పనిచేశాం. నామీద ఒట్టేసి చెబుతున్నా! చివరకి, అదొక వసంతవేళ చేసే నాట్యంలా ఆనందంగా అనిపించింది. పిల్లల్లా ఒకరిపట్ల ఒకరు ఎంతో ప్రేమగా ప్రవర్తించడం ప్రారంభించాం. అసలు, ఎన్నో నెలలపాటు మరొక మనిషిని కలవడానికి ఎలుకలా చిమ్మచీకట్లో భూమిలో కలుగుతవ్వుకుంటూ తవ్వుకుంటూ పోయిన తర్వాత, ఆ సమావేశంకోసం ఎంత ఆరాటంగా ఉంటుందో మీరు తెలుసుకోగలిగితే ఎంతో బాగుంటుంది!”

ఆ మాటలు అంటున్నప్పుడు అతని ముఖం సిగ్గుతో ఎర్రబడింది.  అతని మాటలు వింటున్న వ్యక్తిదగ్గరకి పోయి, అతని ముఖంలో ముఖం పెట్టి చూశాడు. లోతైన ఆ కళ్ళలో మెరుపు కనిపించింది. మళ్ళీ తనే ప్రశాంతంగా ఇలా చెప్పడం ప్రారంభించేడు:

“కడసారిగా మా మధ్యనున్న గోడ బద్దలయింది. ఒక త్రోవ ఏర్పడింది. అందులోంచి ఎర్రని టార్చిలైటు వెలుగూ, ఎవరిదో కన్నీళ్ళతో నిండిన అస్పష్టమైన ముఖమూ కనిపించాయి. తర్వాత మరో ముఖం, మరికొన్ని టార్చిలైట్లు, మరికొన్ని ముఖాలు… ఆనందంతో నిండిన అరుపులూ, జయజయధ్వానాలూ మారుమోగేయి.  ఓహ్! ఏం చెప్పను! నా జీవితంలో మరిచిపోలేని రోజది! అది తలుచుకున్నప్పుడల్లా, నా జీవితం వృధాగా గడపలేదన్న సంతృప్తి కలుగుతుంది నాకు! దొరా! ఆ పని, నా పని, పవిత్రమైన పని! నిజం. ఇది మాత్రం ఖచ్చితంగా చెప్పగలను! మేమంతా నేలని ముద్దాడాం! దొరా! ఆ రోజు నాకు నిజంగా ఈ నేల నాకు ఎంతో ఇష్టంగా, ఆప్యాయంగా కనిపించింది! నేను ఈ నేలంటే ప్రేమలో పడిపోయాను… అదొక ప్రియురాలైనట్లు!

“నేను మా నాన్న సమాధి దగ్గరకి వెళ్ళాను. … నాకు చనిపోయిన వాళ్ళు వినగలరని తెలియక పోయినప్పటికీ… అక్కడికి వెళ్ళేను. మనకోసం కష్టపడినవాళ్ళ కోరికలు తీర్చడం కోసం, మనకంటే తక్కువేమీ కష్టపడని వాళ్ల కోసం, దొరా, మనం ఆ మాత్రం చెయ్యొద్దూ?”

“చెయ్యాలి. తప్పకుండా చెయ్యాలి.  మా తండ్రి సమాధిదగ్గరకి పోయి, నేలమీద కాలితో ఒక్క సారి గట్టిగా సైనికుడిలా తట్టిశబ్దం చేసి, అతను కోరినట్టుగానే, ఇలా చెప్పాను:

“నాన్నా! సాధించాం! మనుషులు జయించారు. నాన్నా! అనుకున్నపని పూర్తయింది!”

.

మాగ్జీం గోర్కీ

 (మార్చి 28, 1868 – జూన్ 18, 1936)

 రష్యను కథకుడు

.

Man and the Simplon

A blue lake is deeply set in mountains capped with eternal snow. A dark network of gardens descends in gorgeous folds to the water. White houses that look like lumps of sugar peer down from the bank into the lake; and everything around is as quiet and peaceful as the sleep of a child.

It is morning. A perfume of flowers is wafted gently from the mountains. The sun is new risen and the dew still glistens on the leaves of trees and the petals of flowers. A road like a grey ribbon thrusts into the quiet mountain gorge — a stone-paved road which yet looks as soft as velvet, so that one almost has a desire to stroke it.

Near a pile of stones sits a workman, like some dark coloured beetle; on his breast is a medal; his face is serious, bold, but kindly.

Placing his sunburnt hands on his knees and looking up into the face of a passer-by who has stopped in the shade of a chestnut-tree, he says:

“This is the Simplon, signor, and this is a medal for working in the Simplon tunnel.”

And lowering his eyes to his breast he smiles fondly at the blight piece of metal.

“Oh, every kind of work is hard for a time, until you get used to it, and then it grows upon you and becomes easy. Ay, but it was hard work, though!”

He shook his head a little, smiling at the sun; then suddenly he checked himself and waved his hand; his black eyes glistened.

“I was afraid at times. The earth must have some feeling, don’t you think? When we had burrowed to a great depth, when we had made this wound in the mountain, she received us rudely enough. She breathed a hot breath on us that made the heart stop beating, made the head dizzy and the bones ache. Many experienced this. Then the mother earth showered stones upon her children, poured hot water over us; ay, there was fear in it, signor! Sometimes, in the torchlight, the water became red and my father told me that we had wounded the earth and that she would drown us, would burn us all up with her blood — ‘you will live to see it!’ It was all fancy, like enough, but when one hears such words deep in the bowels of the earth — in the damp and suffocating dark ness, amid the plaintive splashing of water and the grinding of iron against stone — one forgets for the moment how much is fantasy. For everything was fantastic there, dear signor: we men were so puny, while the mountain, into whose belly we were boring, reached up to the sky. One must see in order to understand it. It is necessary to see the black gaping mouth cut by us, tiny people, who entered it at sunset — and how sadly the sun looks after those who desert him and go into the bowels of the earth ! It is necessary to see our machines and the grim face of the mountain, and to hear the dark rumblings in it and the blasts, like the wild laughter of a madman.”

He looked at his hands, set right the medal on his blue blouse and sighed.

“Man knows how to work!” he continued, with manifest pride. “Oh, signor, a puny man, when he wills to work, is an invincible force! And, believe me: in the end, the little man will do everything he wants to do. My father did not believe it, at first.

“‘To cut through a mountain from country to country,’ he said ‘is contrary to the will of God, who separated countries by mountain walls; you will see that the Madonna will not be with us!’ He was wrong, the old man; the Madonna is on the side of everyone who loves her. Afterwards my father began to think as I now think and avow to you, because he felt that he was greater and stronger than the mountain; but there was a time when, on holidays, sitting at a table before a bottle of wine, he would declare to me and others:

“‘Children of God’ — that was his favourite saying, for he was a kind and good man — “children of God, you must not struggle with the earth like that; she will be revenged on you for her wounds, and will remain unconquerable! You will see: when we bore into the mountain as far as the heart, when we touch the heart, it will burn us up, it will hurl fire upon us, because the earth’s heart is fiery — everybody knows that! To cultivate the soil means to help it to give birth — we are bidden to do that; but now we are spoiling its physiognomy, its form. Behold! The farther we dig into the mountain the hotter the air becomes and the harder it is to breathe.”

The man laughed quietly and curled the ends of his moustache with both hands.

“Not he alone thought like that, and he was right; the farther we went in the tunnel, the hotter it became, and men fell prostrate and were overcome. Water gushed forth faster from the hot springs, whole seams fell down, and two of our fellows from Lugano went mad. At night in the barracks many of us talked in delirium, groaned and jumped up from our beds in terror.

” ‘Am I not right ?’ said my father, with fear In his eyes and coughing more and more, and more and more huskily — he did, signor. ‘Am I not right?’ he said. ‘She is unconquerable, the earth!’

“At last the old man lay down for the last time. He was very strong, my old one; for more than three weeks he struggled bravely with death, as a man who knows his worth, and never complained.

“‘My work is finished, Paolo,’ he said to me once in the night. ‘Take care of yourself and return home; let the Madonna guide you!’

“Then he was silent for a long time; he covered up his face, and was nigh to choking.”

The man stood up, looked at the mountains and stretched himself with such force that his sinews cracked.

“He took me by the hand, drew me to himself and said — it’s the solemn truth, signor —

” ‘Do you know, Paolo, my son, in spite of all, I think it will be done; we and those who advance from the other side will meet in the mountain, we shall meet — do you believe that?’

 “I did believe it, signor.”

‘Well, my son, so you must: everything must be done with a firm belief in a happy ending and in God who helps good people by the prayers of the Madonna. I beg you, my son, if it does happen, if the men meet, come to my grave and say: “Father, it is done,” so that I may know!’

 “It was all right, dear signor, I promised him. He died five days after my words were spoken, and two days before his death he asked me to bury him on the spot where he had last worked in the tunnel. He prayed, but I think it was in delirium.

“We and the others who came from the opposite side met in the mountain thirteen weeks after my father’s death — it was a mad day, signor! Oh, when we heard there, under the earth, in the darkness, the noise of other workmen, the noise of those who came to meet us under the earth — you understand, signor, under the tremendous weight of the earth which might have crushed us, puny little things, all at once had it but known how !

“For many days we heard these rumbling sounds ; every day they became louder and louder, clearer and clearer, and we became possessed by the joyful madness of conquerors — wo worked like demons, like persons without bodies, not feeling fatigue, not requiring directions — it was as good as a dance on a sunny day, upon my word of honor! We all became as good and kind to one another as children are. Oh, if you only knew how intensely passionate is one’s desire to meet a human being in the dark, under the earth into which one has bur rowed like a mole for many long months!”

His face flushed, he walked up close to the listener and, looking into the latter’s face with deep kindling eyes, went on quietly and joyously:

“And when the last wall finally crumbled away, and in the opening appeared the red light of a torch and somebody’s dark face covered with tears of joy, and then another face, and more torches and more faces — shouts of victory resounded, shouts of joy. . . Oh, it was the best day of my life, and when I think of it I feel that I have not lived in vain! There was work, my work, holy work, signor, I tell you, yes! …. Yes, we kissed the earth — that day the earth was specially near and dear to me, signor, and I fell in love with it as if it had been a woman!

 “Of course I went to my father! Of course — although I don’t know that the dead can hear — but I went : we must respect the wishes of those who toiled for us and who suffered no less than we do — must we not, signor ? . . .

“Yes, yes, I went to his grave, knocked with my foot against the ground and said, as he wished:

 “‘Father — it is done!’ I said. ‘The people have conquered. It is done, father!'”

.

Maxim Gorky.

(28 March 1868 – 18 June 1936)

Russian

Story Courtesy: The Phoenix. Vol 2 N0. 3-4 February- March 1915   Ed: Michael Monahan

(https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=cerUAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PA269)

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:

Death Sentence… Viswanatha Satyanarayana , Telugu Indian Poet

(10 September 1895 – 18 October 1976)

***

 “You have sentenced me to death; and now ask me to say whatever I want to say. There would be some meaning if you had asked me before passing the sentence. Now, it makes no difference whether or not I say what I wanted to say. But there is some significance in your asking me. Having known that I will be dying anyway, and I can’t speak anything after that, you grant me that harmless luxury to speak. Once born human, we have some mundane pleasure in our speaking. It is characteristic of us wrapped up in Maya (illusion). You don’t respect my body, but respect my soul. Since you believe that my soul and your soul are alike, whether it is true or not, such thinking is but natural.

“There is nothing to lose by not speaking up or to gain otherwise. But some of you think that I should speak. So, I must speak, and speak at any cost. One must speak to his last. They are more enchanted by the words than you.

“You have awarded me the death sentence on the charge that I killed a man. I don’t know that. Neither you nor the people that have given witness here knew that. I have mother, wife and children. I struggled a lot to feed them. They never had two square meals; Nor I.  But by your grace, I have had food for the last two months in the jail. I don’t know what had happened to my people. They must have perished by now. I am more fortunate than them. They must have starved to death. I could at least eat something before I die.

“I had no employment. I could not find work for wages. I could not cheat. When I could somehow earn few coppers and wanted to buy rice, it was not available in the market. It was already four days since we had anything. My wife and I were able to stand it, but my emaciated children could not; they did not have the strength move from where they were sitting or cry. How to bear the agony when they lay down very much like cadavers?

“There was a long queue at the rice shop and I was standing at its end. It was the same story for four days and I returned unable to stand at the end of that queue every day. At last, out of pity, an old woman sold half of her at double the price to me. But the rice I brought was fit for animals and not men. Unless it was pounded and dehusked, it was not even fit for cooking. Neither my wife nor I had the strength since we were too weak from our four days of starvation. Still, unable to stand the agony of children my wife carried it in the hem of her ragged sari and roamed around some ten houses for help. One family shooed her away; another family was busy performing some rites in the household. All her efforts were in vain. She came back and put the same rice over the stone hearth. Where to get the fuel from? A neighbour had erected a kutcha fencing about his backyard but it lay damaged with donkeys, dogs and pigs trampling on and breaking through it. The wooden splints lay scattered and nobody needed them. When I tried to glean them for firewood, someone charged at me. “Fellow, whose father’s property you think this is?” saying so, he beat me with a stick.

“I returned home. One would laugh if I call it a home. It was just a wall of a dilapidated house where nobody lived. Collecting thatch and twigs, my woman somehow erected a roof … enough to hide our heads under. By the time I was home, she was using the same for firewood. Which was more important, the roof or attending to children’s hunger?

“The next day the children were writhing in pain from hunger contractions. The oldie had snatched the few coppers I had, to buy something to alleviate their pain. For the next four days we had nothing to eat. And the children’s tummy aches did not cease. My wife could not get up from her bed. I was somehow able to roam around.

“That afternoon, I saw people going in groups. I asked them where they were going. They said that Rice was being distributed for all and so they were going. I followed them. They were about hundred to two hundred. They collected at a place. People were shouting and slogans were raised. There was a lot of hubbub. They stopped in front of a house. As I was at the back of the crowd, I was not able to know what was happening there. I thought that the stampede was for the rice. People of the neighbouring houses had either shut their doors or were peeping through the windows.

“After a while police arrived at the place. “Thank god! Now that they have come, they shall distribute the rice evenly among people,” I said to myself.

“But slowly I realized that people were fighting with the police.

“Then, Police opened fire. The crowd retaliated by hurling stones at them.

“When the situation had turned for worse, I was no longer interested in staying there and wanted to leave the place. But how? It was almost a month since I had a good meal. Even if I had some odd mealy scrap once in a week, there was not the swiftness in my movement. Because I had a good physique once, I was still looking human in form.

“Some of the police were injured. One police died when a stone hit him on the temple. I don’t know who threw the stone.

“But then, why should there be any discrimination when it comes to killing? If a man dies when a stone hits him, will another survive if a bullet hits him? Why a man be punished for killing throwing a stone, while there is no punishment for killing firing a bullet?

“That blind god had decreed that I threw the stone. Forget about throwing, I was not even a position to lift the stone. When Police chased, everybody took to heels. I had also tried to run away.  But where was the strength in me? The last thing I remember was a hard blow that landed on my head from behind.

“I woke up in the middle of a night. I found myself enveloped in darkness. The next morning I came to know it was a prison.

“After a day or two they gave me food. When I saw food, life rekindled in my veins. Immediately, children came to my mind and I set aside some food for them. Next day I realized that they would never come to me.

“Who cares whatever had happened to them? And slowly, I got used to taking my meal regularly.

“I was enjoying royal treatment. I was getting two meals a day. They were taking me by motor vehicle, wherever they took me. Even in the higher courts, they give a special place for me to stand.  I had a turn of fortune in my last days; how nice it would be, if that devil of god had facilitated this much of comfort for few years before as well!

“What more can I say? I bless you long life for your benevolence. You fed a man starved for life, for the last two months. May you never want anything!

“I don’t know what has happened to my wife and children.  That is my only worry. If my children could grow up… somehow grow up … to adulthood, will they have the same good fortune at the fag end of their lives?

“I leave it to your kindness. If you can do me the favour of finding them out, I shall serve you in my coming life.”

.

Viswanatha Satyanarayana 

10 September 1895 – 18 October 1976

(Telugu Original: ఉరి …

(Published in Anandavani)

Velu Pillai… C. Ramachandra Rao, Telugu, Indian

I started my blog on 28th Aug 2010  and this is the 2000th Post in my blog.  I have come a long way and never expected that I would last this long with my modest to less than modest work.

​​I thank all my blog viewers and visitors  for their continuous support, encouragement and comments which kept me going.

I am presenting one of the most popular stories of yester years by Sri C. Ramachandra Rao garu today.  You can read more about him here 

For reasons of copyright, I am sorry I could not attach the original  story here.

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Hauling twice – the – permitted load up the hill with groans and screechs, the lorry stopped in the big bazaar of the Estate.  To call it big bazaar was a luxury since the Prospect Tea Estate big bazaar had just four shops… two grocery, one coffee “Club” … and the fourth one was divided between a barber shop and a footwear shop. Peeping through the front door, people from the grocery shops hailed “goods have arrived”. Driver got down and opened the bayonet for the engine to cool off. From the other side Gopala Chettiar jumped down smiling gleefully. Already four or five idle youth flocked around the lorry.

“You devils! Have you smelt my coming already?” he cursed them with a boisterous laugh. He pulled out a pack of bidi from his long shirt and presented them few stubs each.

“Sir, give me matches too,” solicited a youth with a familiar air.

“You doggy fellow, you want me to supply the matchbox as well with the bidi? Get lost!”  He said, thrusting the matchbox into his hand.  There was no hint of anger or hatred in his abuses. That was his tone and tenor of addressing those youth.

“Look at our two lazy fellows over there,” pointing towards the top of the loaded lorry where two youth were sleeping blissfully, he said, “Oy Kadalesuu! Please wake them up. They learn to be wise at least by watching you people.”

Some boys had already begun to loosen the ropes of tarpaulin that covered the goods to insure them from unexpected rain.  Two people tried to wake up Irulappa and Karuppayya … the two youth sleeping on the top, calling them by their names.  Gopala Chettiar ran his hand over his bald head to set right the few disheveled strands of hair, and over his white long shirt to spruce it up. He felt the zari towel over his shoulder once more. He tightened the silk Dhoti he was wearing round his girdle once more lest it should give in, and started walking towards Velupillai’s shop.

“Hello Shavukaru* garu, Namaste!” Munuswami Gaunder greeted with folded hands from the Coffee Club on the other side of the road.

“What’s the matter Gaunder? You look smart today calling so loudly? Why, you want to serve me tea?”

Chettiar teased him flaunting his teeth, stained by regular chewing of pan, through his ruddy lips. Smelling something, he walked towards that side of the road.

“Look gentleman! It seems you plan to delay somehow the payment of your installment this time as well. No. I don’t allow that.” he said rather jocularly. Chettiar enjoyed light-hearted humor with his clients. Honestly speaking, he was not thinking of his dues at all. Every Friday Chettiar would bring pulses, vegetables, and other miscellaneous grocery items by lorry and sell them to the small shopkeepers and vendors in the markets around Anamalai Tea Estate. There was no custom of collecting the dues every week.  He would collect his dues whenever they could pay. To keep him afloat even when some of them turned out to bad debts, he would inflate the prices suitably.

“What did you say sir? Can I back-out upon my word once I promised you to pay?” said Gaunder rather apologetically for the hint of delayed payments in Chettiar’s banter.

“Is it? When did you start becoming so prompt, then?” Chettiar continued his friendly sarcastic vein with a harsh pat on Gaunder’s back. The rows of fingers on each finger pinched his back. Caressing his back Gaunder said,

“I just called you if you would like to have some tea?”

Chettiar was really surprised this time on two counts. First, he proposed to pay his dues without being asked; and secondly, the miserly Gaunder had offered him tea on his own. He just asked Gaunder for tea in fun, but never with any real expectation or intention to take it at his shop. Gaunder knew pretty well that he took his food with Velupillai.

“Why do you take the trouble? You know, Velupillai will be expecting me anyway,” replied Chettiar.

“It is not a trouble at all. It would be my pleasure to host you. If you give me an opportunity, I shall take of your needs from now on,” proposed Gaunder.

Waiting for his response for few minutes, he said, “Sendamarai is no more, you know.”

“Ah!” Chettiar could not believe his own ears.

“She was fine last week when I was here. Such a great tragedy in so short a time?!” said Chettiar.

“She died the very next day you left this place.”

“Then I must go,” Chettiar got up.

“Velupillai was not at home.”

“Where is he, then?”

“For the last five days he was at the Vinayaka Temple wailing for her. Poor fellow. Sendamarai’s death is a great setback to him.”

Chettiar understood the reason for Gaunder’s cheerfulness now. Velupillai was a competitor to Gaunder. Each of them had a grocery store of his own. Gaunder has a Coffee-Club in addition. But Velupillai had a larger turnover. Velupillai was known for his honesty, integrity and good customer relations. His business went northwards after his friendship with Chettiar. Gaunder was envious at his prosperity. With Velupillai lost in grief for Sendamarai, Gaunder might be entertaining dreams of developing his business without competition.

When Chettiar reached Velupillai’s shop, workers and a few Estate coolies were playing Pachisi. They abandoned it after seeing Chettiar.

“Why didn’t you open the shop?” asked Chettiar

“Owner forbade us to open it,” answered a worker.

Chettiar entered the house through the sliding door. Cabbage, Cauliflower, Peas, Potato, Drumsticks and all other vegetables he supplied last week were lying on the floor drying. Rats had rummaged rice and pulses from the part-opened bags. Chettiar felt so sorry for Velupillai. He got angry with the workers. He came out in a huff and shouted at them:

“When misfortune befalls your owner and he says not to open the shop, do you just nod your heads like Gangireddu?  See, how all the vegetables are getting spoilt.”

News of Chettiar’s arrival had already passed through the Estate and the Panchayat bigwigs Kolandavelu, Asirvadam, Kondai, and some young and old workers of the Estate congregated near Velupillai’s shop.

“Don’t find fault with the boys. Velupillai was adamant to open his shop,” defended them Kondai.

“Without taking even gruel, he was grieving for her.  I am afraid he would die soon.” said Kolandavelu.

“Is it?” asked Chettiar.

“Why should we lie? If anybody takes to him something to eat, he would take. Otherwise he would put up with some tea.”

“Show me where that Vinayaka Temple is?” asked Gopala Chettiar. All of them walked towards the temple.

“Isn’t it after erecting this temple, that Velupillai became suddenly rich?” said Ennasimuttu.

“Why only this temple, hasn’t Sendamarai turned out lucky for him?” countered Kondai.

Gopala Chettiar listened to them but did not comment. For the last three or four years he had been doing business on the Anamalai Estates. Velupillai had become a very close friend to him during the last three years. His meeting Velupillai for the first time and Velupillai bringing home Sendamarai happened almost within an interval of four to five months. Velupillai had a first wife. The old story narrated by Velupillai reeled before his mind’s eye.

Till ten to twelve years back, Velupillai was a coolie on the Prospect Tea Estate. Once he had a serious scuffle with the Estate Conductor and after emotions flared to a high pitch challenging each other, he resigned and started his own business. Though it was called a business, it did not run into hundreds but a very modest venture. Every Thursday in the Pollachi hat at the foot of the hill, he bought the left over onion, tamarind, vegetables etc. at the end of the day cheaply, and sold them to the Estate workers for a profit. Jealous of him, the Estate Conductor used to threaten Velupillai that he would complain to higher authorities against him for starting a shop without a valid licence.  Once the Conductor spotted the location of his business, the shop used to disappear into his hand bag. And once the Conductor had left the scene, it used to reappear at a different place. Though he was able to manage this way for some time, he did not like it.  Some Estate coolies who were in favor with Velupillai went to the Estate Conductor and petitioned for sanctioning another retail grocery shop. They also requested that the shop was sanctioned to Velupillai. Thereby, Velupillai started a grocery shop as a competitor to Munuswami Gaunder.

It might not be as roaring a business as it was now, but it was still a very profitable one those days. Within a year he got married and in another three to four years he decorated his wife with fine jewelry. He bought her renowned Kanchi saris. He furnished his house with three chairs and a sophisticated high bedstead with tester and studded with mirrors. Having got rich, there arose a desire in him to make his name everlasting.  He decided to do whatever he could do and held consultations with the coolies of the Estate. They asked for a Vinayaka Temple and he consented to it. But his wife Pavanal was against this kind of money-wasting exercises. Without her consent he could not do anything. Every evening she used to take the collections from the shop from him tallying to the last paise. She was the lord of the home and managed the household expenditure. She was notorious for not attending to Velupillai’s basic needs of food and clothing. Rumors circulated that she spent all the money he earned for her jewelry, clothing and sending it to her parents. God knows the truth behind such rumors. But one thing was true. Velupillai and Pavanal were always at loggerheads. She went to her father’s place once or twice after getting angry with him in such domestic quarrels. When once she returned after two or three weeks, Velupillai did not let her enter his house. Then Estate coolies arbitrated calling for a panchayat, censured Pavanal and pacified Velupillai.

When he mooted the temple issue with Pavanal, she came down upon him heavily, accusing, “you want to make me bankrupt, and “you want to be happy at the expense of my children,” etc., etc. For some days she stopped attending on him for his needs like… arranging water for his bath and serving food on time. Velupillai might have relented if the issue were anything else. But it was a question of erecting a temple for God. Once he made a promise, he could not back away. So he compromised by furnishing her wrong accounts, making private arrangements with his customers and reducing his personal needs to bare minimum, saved money and started his project.  For long, he managed the news about temple construction did not reach Pavanal’s ear.  But the day she got the wind, hell broke loose. For the next one week Velupillai was forced to live and bury his hunger in his Tea shop. From then on, he was always short of money. By then, he could only complete the  bare structure. It could not be called a temple. Velupillai’s intention was to consecrate Vinayaka’s idol and to protect it from elements by erecting a Gopuram. So he leveled up hundred square-foot plot over a knoll, invited sculptors from Madurai, and erected the Gopuram.  The structure stood on a three-foot high platform with four stone pillars and the Gopuram resting on them. The Gopuram was decorated with several colorful idols like … Lord Shiva, his vehicle The Bull, Lord Vinayaka and his vehicle The Mouse, some elephants etc.  At the foot of each idol “Courtesy: Velupillai” was prominently engraved with date and year. He used to frequent the place every day and prided reading his name over there. After all this effort, he was sorely disappointed that he was short of money for the main idol and consecration.

When he consulted the purohits they said that it was not that easy to consecrate a presiding deity in a temple. It needs propitiatory rituals that would cost about four to five thousand rupees in the least. He hardly had ten rupees on him. When he was lost and in a state of mental depression, somebody suggested to him an alternative… that “if he could steal an idol that was already consecrated in another temple it needs no propitiatory rituals”. And also, that it was not immoral to steal for a greater cause of public good. After all, he reassured himself, he was not stealing the idol from the sanctum sanctorum of any temple but the one that was lying idle and neglected in a dilapidated temple. He decided to bring the Vinayaka idol stealing it from Konnattur temple complex. But even that was not an easy job. Without the help of three or four people he could not steal the idol at night.  Though it needed no propitiatory rituals,  for formal consecration and feeding the poor it would cost anywhere between thousand to fifteen hundred rupees. He was tense and restless. All his savings were in the form of gold but was lying with Pavanal. If only she could come to his rescue agreeing to pawn it now, he would release it in due course. But he did not have even a glimmer of hope. For a holy cause, he reasoned, it was not a sin to lie. So, he composed a letter in the name of her father … stating that a piece of farmland was on offer for sale and he needed two thousand immediately… and posted. Next day when Pavanal asked to read the letter to her, he stopped after the mention of loan and pretended anger. For the next two days she talked sweetly to him; soaped his back when he took his bath; meticulously removed the veins on pan leaf, applied a tender layer of quick lime and prepared pan and served him; and tried every trick to please him and bring to her way. When he thought it was enough, he pretended to have relented and agreed to provide the needed money by pawning her jewelry.

With his four confidants and the jewelry Velupillai took off to Konnattur. On the way he pawned the jewelry with a Marwari at Pollachi and tucked the money in the secret vault of his waist belt. They resumed their journey to Konnattur at nightfall and reached there by midnight. They went straight to the dilapidated Siva temple, removed the Vinayak idol and covering it safely walked out. Just when they were rejoicing that everything passed off peacefully as planned, someone ran past them followed by a mob people at a distance chasing him and shouting, “thief… thief… catch him…”  Velupillai and his friends understood the situation and thought it wise for them to take to heals. Because they were young, his friends took off immediately. But Velupillai was already past fifty and his strength depleted. Added to that, he had a heavy idol in his hands. Before he could hardly run few yards, he began to gasp. He stopped running and looked around. On the other side of the drain he noted a shack, ready to be blown away by a wind. He went in prepared to face whatever might befall him. Until long after the chasing mob had passed the hut, he did not dare to do anything. He lighted a bidi, and in the glow of the burning matchstick he tried to gauge the hut. Before he could make out anything the light went out. Taking a long puff, he tried to look out for any human forms in the glint of the burning bidi. After a while, weary with nothing else to do, he started loitering in the hut.

“Who are you?”

He heard a female voice from a corner.

There was no fear or urgency in that voice. Velupillai got brave.

“Sh! Don’t speak a word!” he warned.

This time he lighted another matchstick and asked, “Where is the lamp?”

“There is no lamp,” she replied.

He put the burning stub near her face and asked, “Are you alone?”

“Yes.”

The light went out again. Velupillai did not light another.  He narrated his story to her in darkness. He prayed her to let him sleep in another corner and promised to leave in the morning.

“He might not have slept alone in a corner. He must have spent the night in the warm embrace of Sendamarai. The old man never tells the truth.”

Gopala Chettiar could not help smiling even at such an hour of grief. People around him were talking so many things about Velupillai and Sendamarai. He did not pay any attention. His thoughts went back to the autobiography Velupillai told him many times before.

Velupillai did not dare to bring Sendamarai to his home. Instead, he arranged for a house to her in Pollachi. He invented one reason or other to go to Pollachi every other day. Sometimes, he used slip out silently putting a rupee or two in the hands of the lorry drivers going that way. He knew it was not safe but did not want to break his head over that. He wanted to enjoy his life as long as he could.

It did not take long Pavanal to realize that Velupillai conned her to get hold of her jewelry. This time she not only stopped cooking for him but also started wailing loudly. She complained to every passerby. And she beat Velupillai with nobody noticing. People thought he ran away from home that very day. But, he was actually having a great time with Sendamarai in Pollachi. When he returned to the Estate after a week, Pavanal was not at home. She packed up everything available in the shop and went to her parents. He was happy that a heavy load was off his head. He wished that she did not return. Before he could rejoice at the very thought, reality dawned before his eyes. There was not a thing in his shop to sell. Other than the heavy bed she could not remove, she left nothing in the house.

“Had I not met him that Friday what would he have done!?” thought Chettiar within. Dark clouds were gathering over the sky. It started drizzling lazily. Chettiar started walking briskly.

“How far is the temple still?” he asked.

“We are almost there. Just after we take that turn, we can see that,” said Kondai.

Chettiar resumed his thoughts about Velupillai.

That Friday he was actually going to Valparai for collections. He stopped at the Prospect Tea Estate to change water in the radiator as the engine got overheated. That was the first time he met Velupillai. It was still green in his memory how they talked together hours on, lighting bidis and sitting on the culvert by the hill track, as if they were age-old friends. Velupillai recounted his whole story. Chettiar pitied him. His story struck a chord.  He trusted Velupillai.

“Good fellow,” said aloud Chettiar wiping off the few drops of rain that fell on his baldhead with his left hand.

“Though my friendship with Velupillai began by helping him start his business all over again, isn’t it for Sendamarai that I come to these parts frequently?”

Old memories still haunted Chettiar.

Before he met Sendamarai, Chettiar used to come to the Estate for collections once in a while and used to dine at Velupillai’s house, but never did he appear with his wares every week promptly as was his wont now.

“Healthy bitch. She was good to everybody.”

Chettiar could not help thinking about Sendamarai.

He recollected the pleasant profile of Sendamarai … always sitting cheerfully in the shop … people of all ages congregating at the shop and engaged in friendly banter with her… and even the very old hogs, not excepted, buying bidis they did not need just for the heck of touching her fingers… everything played before his mind’s eye.

“But for her intelligence, no other woman could have withstood the onslaught of Pavanal and come out successful as Sendamarai did,” he thought.

After she packed up all materials and went to her parents, Pavanal did not return after two or three weeks as was her practice. She did not turn up even after two to three months had passed. Velupillai dared to bring Sendamarai to Estate. Having got wind of this, Pavanal came with her father for fight and seeking justice. Velupillai lost his nerve. Sendamarai asked to call for a panchayat. Panchayat declared that Velupillai was under no obligation to continue his conjugal relation with Pavanal since she left him on her own without intimation. It also declared that he need not pay the mandatory twenty-five rupees compensation at the time of divorce, ticking it off for the value of goods she took away with her while leaving him.

“That bitch managed to get the judgment she wanted. Strange, even people on their death beds danced to her tunes,” thought Chettiar.

“But Pavanal is a termagant bitch. She deserves it.”

Chettiar could not help being partisan to Sendamarai. He recalled her full breasts peeping through the blouse, her passionate lips, her embrace that made one forget ethics for the moment and her disconcerting bubbling youth. He was so embarrassed to get such thoughts at that time.

“There he is,” shouted Kolandavelu pointing towards Velupillai sitting leaning onto the steps of Vinayaka temple.

Chettiar lost his heart looking at Velupillai… in soiled clothes, disheveled hair, thick crop of unshaven beard, and emaciated with grief. He did not imagine Sendamarai’s death would shatter him so much. He was angry with Sendamarai.

“Thankless woman,” he thought.

“He will go mad,” said Asirvadam looking at Velupillai.

“Why? He is already crazy, for sure. He drove that simple woman Pavanal out of his house, and is wailing day and night for this bitch! What a pity!” said Kolandavelu.

“Poor chap. While the whole village was agog with rumors about her, they did not reach his ear,” pitied  Ennasimuttu.

As if to suggest “don’t you have commonsense to look around before you speak,”  Kondai pressed Ennasimuttu’s hand surreptitiously and gestured towards Chettiar with his eyes.  Chettiar noticed him.

“But then, didn’t Velupillai see the best of his times only after she stepped into his life? She took good care of him as well,” said Ennasimuttu loud enough to be heard by Chettiar.

“That bitch really made a fool of Velupillai making him dance to her tune,” thought Chettiar.

He lost himself with the emotions of the surroundings.

“I cannot keep quiet as this innocent fellow forsakes his life and home for that bitch. I shall reveal everything about her.”

“All of you leave at once. I will take care of Pillai,” he said turning towards them all.

Velupillai broke down hugging Chettiar.

“You are old enough to bear with her loss. Is it meet to be so meek?” said Chettiar caressing the few silvery strands that fell on his chest.

 “What is the use of my living without her?” cried Velupillai.

“Tut! You should be brave,” said Chettiar.

“God was so cruel to me taking her away. He left me alone.”

“Pillai, you should not lose hair over a woman” said Chettiar.

“She is not like any other women.”

Velupillai blew his nose.

“Pillai…” called Chettiar.

There was a change of tone in his voice.  Velupillai stopped crying and looked at him in disbelief.

“You are very innocent. You need not have to grieve for Sendamarai this way. if only you knew the truth about her…”

“Chetti! Do you also speak like that?” interrupted Velupillai, “Do you believe the words of those mindless coolies?”

“No Pillai! Sendamarai was in fact…”

“That was what these useless fellows were trying to tell me for the last four days.  So that was what they told you. Idle fellows. “

Velupillai spat out with vengeance.

“So long as she was alive, not a single fellow had the guts to point a finger towards her. Now they speak all nonsense. Jealous fellows.”

“Pillai…” Chettiar was about to say something but refrained.

“I know what they brain washed you with. They said Sendamarai went out with others cheating me. Do you believe it true Chetti?” Velupillai pleaded deplorably.

“I don’t”

Chettiar was surprised at his own answer.

“The people who circulate rumors about her shall be afflicted with paralysis,” cursed Velupillai.

Chettiar fell silent losing in thoughts. After a while Velupillai resumed,

“Only after she stepped into my house, my fortunes took a favorable turn. Was I ever happy before?”

“True,” agreed Chettiar.

Velupillai witnessed a veritable hell with Pavanal. Even after being successful and earning substantially, he could not enjoy his life. Sendamarai set everything right and brought his life to an order. She sat at the counter and improved his business. She talked sweetly with everybody and earned him a name in the society. She took care of all his needs. Chettiar could now slowly understand the reason behind Velupillai’s grief at the death of Sendamarai.

“OK. Let us suppose that she was like that. Why should they bother about her?” resumed Velupillai. “They were green with envy that an old man like me had such a youthful wife.”

Chettiar for a second thought if Velupillai was really as innocent as he seemed.  Did he really not know what he wanted to say about Sendamarai?  Why people were so anxious to say something about her? Would the pleasures and peace he enjoyed with Sendamarai come to naught by knowing about her now? Poor Sendamarai! What else she could do after all! She lived with a fifty year old man and made life pleasant for him.  Velupillai should be grateful to her. Gopala Chettiar did not want to think beyond that.

“Pillai. I am getting hungry.  Come on. Let us go home,” said Chettiar.

Velupillai got up. Together they started walking towards bazar.

*

Original: Velupillai by Sri C. Ramachandra Rao

Tr. RS Krishna Moorthy and NS Murty

Note:

Shavukaru: Is a “denotative” of merchant caste. In villages, it is common to address people by their profession/ caste “denotative”. 

Sanjeevarayudu…  Dr. Mythili Abbaraju, Telugu, Indian 

I had just returned from attending job counselling interview. I knew that there was a vacancy in that village before. When I mentioned my choice without a second thought, there was a shade of surprise on the face of the officials for my choice of that remote village.

“Is it where you hail from, Doctor?” An elderly looking person amongst them asked curiously.

“No, sir!”

How could I explain them what the village meant to me?!

Without asking any questions further they gave me the posting order.

Visweswarapuram!

It was a place I yearned to visit any number of times but could not make it. Being busy with studies, of course, was not the only reason. I was afraid I did not have the courage to contain my emotion!

Now that I was going to live there, I prepared myself mentally to step into that sea of disconcerting memories.

***

In many ways, I was at odds with the ultra-modern trends of 2016. Yet, I learnt to be pragmatic and get on with the world by shaking hands and leaving no hint of what was going on within. The only person I adored and liked very dearly was… the late Poet Laureate.

“It is not your fault… one should blame your parents for this upbringing,” people who cared for me used complain.

True! My parents were a crazy lot and of a different breed. But they were not the first either. It all began with my maternal grandfather who was a student of the Poet laureate. To speak the truth, the Poet Laureate was not just a teacher but a demigod to him.

My grandfather passed on his craze for literature to his daughter and nephew. Whatever the Poet Laureate penned was fair, just and a statute for him…. no matter what the writing was about, including such simple things as culinary miscellany.

I was born 25 years after the Poet Laureate had left for his heavenly abode. I was the only child for my parents. My granny still blames my parents that they had spoilt me too. I must admit that there are very few people in our family lineage who had a smack of literature or even a cursory interest in it. How ‘spoilt’ we were became glaringly evident to me whenever I visited my relatives. When I say spoilt, I did not mean we were financial wrecks. My father was doing his job perfectly well and my mother was admirably managing our agricultural affairs.

The Poet Laureate was a prolific writer with over hundred works to his credit. In the wide-ranging spectrum of his oeuvre of every genre and subject, there were many novels along with classical dramas. One of the novels, running for over 900 pages, was tantamount to a holy scripture for us and we read it almost daily. It’s burden I was carrying with flair ever since I came of age.

My father was fond of poetry. He used to recite extempore the poems written by the Poet Laureate and other classical poets of olden times and explain us the meaning. That’s how I picked up interest and achieved reasonable command over the language. There was a 300-poem work of the Poet Laureate which was of particular interest. My father very rarely laid his hands on that but my mother almost read it daily. Reading in our house meant, for all practical purposes, reciting the poems aloud. More than the meaning of the poems my mother recited, I understood her grief first. As days passed, tears used to stream down my eyes without restraint. I desisted crying aloud lest my mother should stop reciting the poems. Once she put the book aside, more often, she lived in a different realm to mind her surrounds for some time.

From the prologue to the book I understood on my own that it was an elegiac work. Poet Laureate wrote it in memory of his late wife. At the college, I searched for similar works in other languages and read, but none of them came anywhere near that book. I felt that it was only he and he alone who could put up with such insufferable pain on one hand and put it aptly into words on the other. My answer to people who question me how I could I rate him a great poet who brought me to tears is, just go out and learn the rudiments of rhetoric. Bhavabhuti, the author of the renowned Sanskrit classic “Uttara Rama Charitam” said, “there is only one Rasa (emotion/ passion/affection) in this world and that is Compassion; all other manifest emotions are just its aberrations.”  Bhavabhuti on one side and the Poet laureate on the other side are my models. But for the Poet Laureate’s great regard for Bhavabhuti, I would have placed him a rung below the Poet Laureate.

The spirit of that monumental novel, as I mentioned before, was not as easy as his poetry to grasp immediately. But, with age I gradually understood it. There was not a subject he did not touch in that book. As he went on narrating how the invaders of this land had targeted everything native and valuable to this country, its soul and sap, and how they meddled with each of them and subtly distorting them, a helpless resignation would seize anybody else as the facts unfold before mind’s eye. But he was made of a sterner stuff. He recorded the whole tragedy to the minutest detail with the studied indifference of a historian.  At the end of the novel, the protagonist’s wife would be afflicted with a peculiar disease for which there was no cure those days. The hero desperately tries to save her life. There used to be cure available in Ayurveda once but thanks to the biased policies of the rulers, that system of medicine went out of vogue.  Their system of medicine did not have a cure for that disease in those days. Ultimately she succumbs to the disease.

My god! What a description! What a pouring out of grief! I used to read and reread those twenty- thirty pages and visualize the tragedy unfolding. I used to feel drained of all my energy. It seemed it was really happening in front of me.

People say that the theme had autobiographical overtones. His wife died like that when he was thirty-five. When she was alive, their conjugal love had touched paradigmal proportions. His wife was a great scholar. She used to edit all his works when she was alive. That’s why they would seem a cut above his later works.

My grandfather, who was alive till recently, used to tell me, “Look, my child! If you closely observe, you can notice his earlier works depict a lot of grace and charm about them. Though his output was more in later years, it is bereft of this earlier grace. When you read the lamentation of a seriously grieving soul, sometimes you get disinclined to read further. Over a period of time, he could see the funny side of it. He became compassionate towards his fellow beings.”

Before I turned fifteen, I read all his works and could form my own opinion of things. If I look back and try to evaluate my grandfather’s remarks, I must confess I would agree with him completely.

The irony, of course, was that his earlier works were not as popular as his later works. I think he himself had mentioned it somewhere that “very few people could stand the taste of fresh milk and freshly collected honey”. Or, maybe, that merciless ‘inability to put up with sublime happiness’ dwells subconsciously in the readers’ mind!  Maybe, that other man was also unhappy gives a kind of vicarious pleasure.

Why to talk of somebody else – my father himself had said it once that “He could create such a corpus of literature only because he suffered the pain. Else, like the rest, he would also have reclined on his back coolly chewing a pan.”

When I heard him say that I lost my cool. “Why? What if he had not turned out such great works? For that matter, what if he had not written any book at all? Isn’t it enough if he lived happily?”

But, like an addict, I used to read only the incidents of death in the novel; And used to wriggle like the cane of sugar passing between the blades of a mill.

Poet Laureate’s wife died of Consumption. There are medicines available for TB now and it is completely curable now. But of what use? Of what use are they for her!!!

I was at the forefront in studies and I secured a seat in medicine as father desired. At the new place I got introduced to new faces. I learnt that the Poet Laureate had great fan following across the state.  And over time, I also came to know that there were more barbs and misinterpretation of his works than criticisms. To be fair to him, two or three of his opinions are not in sync with contemporary thinking. Even I cannot agree with his thinking on these points. But then, what if you have such small cuprous impurities in such a large gold mine of his works? I used to get easily irritated and vehemently argued when only these blemishes were magnified to cosmic proportions and used as excuse for condemning and dismissing his works. But later, when I found there was no rhyme or reason in the arguments these days, I stopped entering into arguments. Like the clandestine meetings of banned outfits, we, his fans, used to meet at some place and discussed among ourselves.

Just then, I chanced upon a photo.

It was taken four days before Mother (Poet Laureates wife, henceforth I shall refer her with that epithet) had passed away. There was a baby in the Poet laureate’s hands, and a boy was standing by him. Mother was just a heap of bones. Her large bright eyes did not cease their glow. As for him, I had never seen such frozen despair and helplessness I saw in his eyes anywhere… not even in my medical wards.

Giving the photo to some of my artist friends, I entreated them to morph the gloom and paint the two rather in a happy disposition. They did it but the angst did not cease altogether; it only seemed lurking somewhere near.

I did my MD in pulmonary medicine. It is mandatory that we should work for the next 2 years in government.

This village… Visweswarapuram…  is Poet Laureate’s village.  His father was wealthy once but fell on bad times and lost everything. After the death of Mother, the Poet Laureate served in the village school as Telugu teacher, brought up his children, and at the age of seventy met his creator.  Ten days before his death when my grandfather visited him.  He said to my grandfather, “after so long, I am able to make it.”  He passed away in the very house Mother had passed away. The house was still standing but his children settled in US.

The village had grown bigger now but it was a typical countryside once.

It’s going to be my abode for the next two years.

*

It’s three districts away from where I studied. I got down with my luggage in the village. The hospital was at one end of the village. It was a very old but large spacious rectangular house with number of rooms, all opening into the vacant space at the centre. As there was no provision for treating in-patients, the verandah in the front and two or three rooms would be enough … for patients to wait and doctors to conduct clinical examination and tests. There were two more doctors, one on a long leave and the other, a lady, who commutes from a town sixty kilometers away.  There were no staff quarters. Staff informed me that the present building was only temporary arrangement and that a permanent building was sanctioned at the other end of the village; and, caught between the conflicting interests of opposing parties, even the foundation stone was not laid for the same so far. However, they assured me that they would find accommodation for me very soon.

“Till then?” I asked

“We will get the back-end rooms cleaned. There is a high-raise canopied bed available,” the staff replied.

Was there an alternative? I asked them to clean the kitchen too, if there was any. I was a day scholar all through my studies and cooked for myself.

After the first round cleaning, I supervised the second round of cleaning myself. God knows when was the last time people inhabited these rooms. It was smelling bat’s guano all over. I lighted a whole bunch of scented sticks in each room. I must admit, when I opened the windows, a gust of refreshing breeze swept through the rooms.

I finished the dinner with bread toast and mango pickle.

When I reached for the bed, I lost myself in no time.

I woke up in the middle of the night. Two people were in conversation.  They might be husband and wife.

“Hum! Have you completed your stately pursuits? Do you have any idea how late the night was?  My stomach is growling … waiting for you this long.”  She wanted to be harsh. However much she tried, she wanted to get angry but she couldn’t.

“What can I do? How long can I pass time at home? Besides, I was with you alone when I was at home.”  He was entreating her endearingly.

Only the sounds of vessels and plates could be heard for some time.

Where are the sounds coming from? there were no houses in the neighborhood. I felt the bedsheet on the cot anew. Instead of the fine Bombay Dyeing, it seemed coarse handloom kalamkari bedsheet. I reassured myself that sometimes dreams seem so natural.

Then I heard peals of laughter.  I got up to watch.  There… where I toasted my bread, in the place of gas stove there was a wood stove and a small iron open-furnace.

They were sitting a little away from the two. Their posture revealed how intimate they were. She was almost in his lap. It was hard to tell who was feeding whom. They were taking meal together.

I was watching.  They got up and returned washing their hands. Strangely, it did not come to my mind who they were or if they would do me any harm. Hiding in a corner I was looking at their faces. I felt I had seen them somewhere.

They might be around twenty-five. She was short and lean and her body had crimson tint. However, the glow in her face was beyond description. It was close to Goddess Sarasvati’s.  She was in a black zari-bordered handloom sari. A crescent-moon like gold necklace adorned her neck. The attire and adornment looked very old and out of fashion… almost lifted from the movies of Gudavalli Ramabrahmam.

They were effervescent with love and laughter.  She was setting the kitchen in order. He was roaming around there, walking behind . It seemed her work was over and they might enter this bedroom any moment. But I was here. What to do?

“You crazy! It was all a dream.” I tried to pacify myself.  As a precaution, I kept standing where I was.  As expected, they went into the bedroom. He picked up a book and she was trying to pull it out of his hands…

*

A dash of drizzle through the window woke me up.  Day was breaking behind the clouds.

There were not many patients at the hospital.

“Sir, till today, no doctor stayed here for long. Now that you stay here and will be available, people will come regularly hereafter,” assured the attender.

Because I don’t sleep in the afternoons, after my lunch, I walked towards the village.

It was like any other village which the evils of civilization visit before culture stepped in.  How could I find there the house of the Poet Laureate?

Who should I ask?

It suddenly struck me that there was a temple of Lord Chennakesava in the village.  So I could ask the temple priest about it.

It was past 2 O’ clock by the time I went to the village. The temple was closed.

As luck would have it, the priest’s house was nearby.

I called on him.

He was not that old. He might be five or six years older than me.  I was not sure if he could tell me.

“I am sorry,” said he.

“Who is that?”  I heard an old lady enquiring almost shouting at him.

“He wants the house of one Srimannarayana Murty, a Poet Laureate,” he replied coolly.

“Are you speaking about the poet of good olden days? He had been dead for fifty years. There is nobody from the family living here. His house was given out to the hospital.” She came out to answer.

I paid my respects to her for the information and returned.

I did not know! I could not even guess!!!

Suddenly my hairs stood up when I recollected last night’s dream.

Then…  were they?!

Yes… It seemed I read that episode before.

Now, I could understand the decrepitude the house fell upon.

But, was it a dream really?

Tut! If it had not been a dream why the spirits of that holy couple hover there?

*

I thought I should be wakeful if I get the same dream once again! And that very thought made me laugh at my own foolishness… how can I be awake in my dream! A conundrum! Something like a teasing refrain of an old cinema song.

I slipped into sleep…

Suddenly there was furore all around and loud wailings were heard.

“Lift the body immediately from the cot and set it on the floor,” someone is hurrying others.

“Mahalakshmi! Mahalakshmi!” someone is anxiously calling her.

“Mahalakshmi is no more! She is leaving for her heavenly abode!”

I got up suddenly. He was wailing his heart out leaning onto a pillar. Even rocks would thaw if they listen to his wailing. Is Death more stony?

I could not see his face. His back and shoulders were rattling under grief.

It’s a moment of convulsive agony. I could not resist. I wanted to console him.  I ran up to me and held him in my arms.

It’s hard to describe the sensual feeling the touch caused in me. He turned towards me.

Amidst such overwhelming grief, I could see for a fleeting moment great surprise in his face. I could understand that he was closely observing me and he was surprised at my attire and my attitude towards him.

Somebody pulled me away from him and pushed me out.

In the twilight glow, I could clearly see everything on the street.

Some kid was shouting in his sweet childy chirping, “Vande Matalam” (Vande Mataram… Salute to my motherland.)

“Sh! …”

Perhaps it was his mother who was bidding him to be silent.

I knew what was that age… But How was I there? Then???

I pinched myself.  It smarted.  But then, did I not study somewhere that it would be so in dreams as well?

The boy came out from the neighboring house.  There was a small flag in his hands. I called him to me. He came to me feeling shy.

He showed me the flag and I was watching it.

There was rattling under my feet. I was afraid if there was an earthquake in my dream.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself on my bed.

*

That was Sunday. It was a holiday for hospital.

I did not feel like getting up. I lost myself in woolgathering.

Kaalohyam niravadhihi (Time is limitless)” … I am reminded of Bhavabhuti.

I receded into time. There was no doubt about that.

Because I adored those holy couple… in the house they lived… I was able to see them. That became possible.

If I went back… what event, I would witness? Was it in my hands? What purpose would it serve?

“Whose purpose?” … a logical corollary came out. My body horripilated.

What was all this? Why it was happening?

I drew my fist with impatience. Something pinched me.  When I looked for it, I found it: it’s a flag.  Where did it come from?   it was the same flag I took from the child to have a look. It came with me from those times to the present.

If something could come from those times to the present… how about something from these times to…?

My thoughts were fleeting.

If I could make it possible?

I brought sixty AKT Kits from medical store and I put them in my shirt and pajama pockets before I went to bed.  I plastered them together lest they should slip.  3 kinds of tablet in each packet and one packet for each day. They are enough for two months and effective to treat the early stages of the disease. Next time if I could go, I would have to change the medicines.

What was the right time to visit?  But if I could go at the right time, I was confident that I could convince him.

No doubt, it was a crazy belief. All this wouldn’t have happened but for that.

In the novel, the protagonist and his wife would visit their friends’ village after the birth of their son. There, while moving around in the mango groves, she could not stand the spring sun and fails to put few steps. She might have afflicted with the disease then.

I strongly determined to visit them on the first day they returned from their friends, and slept.

*

I was on the verandah.  She was not there. Perhaps feeling weak, she might be sleeping inside. He was reading a book reclining in an easy chair. To his left, a lantern was aglow on a tripod.

For the sound of my steps, he looked over the book, closely and sharply.

I paid my respects by prostrating before his feet.

“Blessed be you with long life! What Age you belong to?”

I was perplexed. More perplexing was that his question was more rhetorical than a query. He understood that I was modern.

That’s it. He had already read HG Well’s by that time….

As if he understood my state of mind, he said with a playful smile

“You can’t learn everything from personal experience. You have to give free reign to your thoughts.”

What an enticing smile that was!  He never had an inkling of her impending death.

I told him about my age and where I hailed from.

Then… one after another… I briefed how all of us in our family were his devotees… and how I chanced to step into that house … etc.

But I could not muster enough courage to speak the ultimate.

“Then, did I write all these books?”. He felt happy.

I was not sure how long could I stay there. I was getting sweating with nervousness.

Mother is seriously ill Guruji!  Please administer these medicines. It is very important.” I put those 60 packets there.

“Oh! You said you studied English medicine. OK. I will administer those medicines.” He took it lightly. He was just trying to be polite. I was clear to me.

“Please Guruji! You are not able to understand the seriousness of the disease. She is suffering from Consumption.” I uttered the inevitable in a hurry.

The ominous words changed the pleasantness in his feelings.  He got up and stuffed the medicines back into my hands.

“Don’t talk rubbish.  She is not suffering from any disease.  Even if she were, those English medicines won’t help her. Lord Visweswara won’t betray my trust. I am sure about that.”

He did!  He did! listen to me!

Before the words spilled out of my gullet, I was not there.

I could not describe how I attended my duties, how I attended to my patients. An unfathomable despair echoing from within.

Yet, I did not want to back down from my efforts.

I was sure that some reputed doctor… some Sastry he believed in … would say to him, “The disease set in clandestinely. Let her not stay long in wet clothes. I can’t guarantee a cure.”  At least he would develop faith in my medicine.

Would he? Was it predetermined? Could it be undone?

Could I reach there on time? I would. I was sure.

I bought medicines from town sufficient for nine months. Medicines that would work even when the disease was at an advanced stage. I put them all in a cloth bag and sewed it up at the mouth. I stitched the bag inside my shirt.

That was all I could. If God willed it, it would. There was nothing in my hands.

I slept…

He was looking wan. He was not able to put his mind on anything for long.

I bowed to him in respect.

“So you have come back. I did not expect you would.”

“Yes, Guruji! It’s God’s will.”

“Who knows what is going to happen?”

“You said that it is possible to prevent premature death. Did not Lord Siva prevent timely death to Markandeya?”

“If she is destined to live, the medicine given by doctor Sastry would work.”

I was infuriated. But I controlled myself.

“A race could be bad. But even that, it is possible for righteous people to be born.” I cried loud.

They were the very words he would write someday.  Perhaps they were in a nascent stage in his mind.  There was a subtle movement in his face.

“You cannot change the whelm of time.  Enough if you could save Mother’s life. The people who invented these medicines were all saints accursed to be born as occidentals. For the wellbeing of mankind they sacrificed their lives working day and night to find this cure. You are in the year 1931. Till 1946 not even the earliest version of these medicines was invented. I am coming after another seventy years have passed. I am one of those who bitterly wailed for years at Mother’s death.  I have a right.  I earned it. I insist you, not only as a fan, but also as a doctor!”

I became very bold.

He got up and took the medicine bag from me.  I already put detailed instructions as to how to administer each drug and when. Yet, unable to resist the temptation, I repeated it all.  Until I was convinced that he properly understood what all I said, I stayed there.

I was in my room when I opened my eyes. The Calendar on the wall was showing the year 2016.  But the house was spic and span. And was painted all over.

I entered the front rooms.

In the hall… there were photographs of the Poet Laureate and Mother as donors of the building to the hospital. Their dates of death were recorded few years on either side of 1991.  They lived almost for ninety to ninety-five years.

The elegiac work that I always carried with me was not at the assigned place. I would never find it except in my memory. Because it was no longer true even I might forget it after sometime…

I need not go through the last chapters of that monumental novel.  They would be altogether different.

What about the rest of his works?  I wish they were there. I couldn’t afford to miss any.  Perhaps, in all his later works the same grace of his earlier works would be flowing as undercurrent.

This was all my imagination… like what he suggested to know by ideation.

When I went home after ten days the first thing I did was to count the books.  There were thirty books more!  Wow! What a gift for me!!!

I randomly checked his works where I expected the events to take a different turn. They were there just as I imagined.

Even my parents did not have the idea that the stories were different before.  And nobody in the world would ever know.

Suddenly I saw a photo in the central hall I had never seen before.

A very old-looking poet laureate was holding a child in his lap.

In my grandfather’s handwriting it was written like this thereunder:

“18.7.1990. Poet Laureate Srimannarayana Murty and the newborn named ‘Sanjeevarayudu’ by him.”

That was my name.

*

Original: Dr. Mythili Abbaraju

Translation:  RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty

Dr. Mythili Abbaraju

Dr. Mythili Abbaraju is a prolific writer and translator.

A Gynaecologist by profession and presently living in Bangalore, She hails from Guntur, and is an alumna of  NTR University of Health Sciences.  She is presently Senior Registrar Obstetrics & Gynaecology  at Sparsh Hospitals, Yeshwantapur, Bangalore.

Coming from a family lineage of litterateurs,  she  is engrossed  in  both English and Telugu  fiction. Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Chalam, Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao, Jane Austen, George Eliot , Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen are some  among the favorites. In “Nimagna” … a very insightful collection of essays she published recently, she dwells upon various aspects of beauty  and  explains them from her perspective.

Read the original here

1900 th Post

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

 

1700th Post

The Arm Stump… Vempalle Sheriff, Telugu, Indian

Reciting ‘Duva’ and rubbing my face in the cup of my hands first thing in the morning when I get up from bed was my habit. But today, I could not feel my right hand. And, when I looked for it, it was lying cold and lifeless cut off from me in one corner of the bed. I could not make out how it happened. There wasn’t a trace of blood around. It was as cleanly sawn off as a log of Neem with a saw.

 “O, you! My hand was cut off,” I shrieked in fright.

My wife came running into the bedroom.

 “Oh, me! Is it was for the hand that you howled so loud? I was frightened like hell thinking it was something else.  Good riddance! Put it safely in the almirah. We go to the doctor and get it attached when we can find time. Why are you scared for every such silly thing?” She left as fast as she came in.  

Then I noticed. I was even more startled with fear. I noticed her left hand was missing. Yes, she was a southpaw. Whether to serve food, to take a glass of water, to scribble something in the notebook, or cleaning the room, and for that matter, even to beat our seven year old lad Chandu she employs only her left hand. Now, that all-important hand was missing.

“Forget about mine, when and how had she lost hers?”

 I was really perplexed. I wanted to ask calling her back again, but refrained. For, she would snub me once more in her usual way calling me forgetful. That’s all. Other than that no worthwhile answer would I get.  

 So, I said my prayers with the left hand, and rubbing my face with it I got up from bed. I placed my right hand carefully next to my wife’s left hand in the almirah. 

Finishing my ablutions quickly with the remaining hand, I dressed up, had my tiffin and with the lunch box hanging on to the arm stump, I darted off for office.

I saw my house owner coming from the other direction, with his two hands missing.

“Tut, the day! There was something terribly wrong somewhere today!” I cursed myself. 

I wanted to ask him about his two hands. But, what if he had asked me in turn about my right hand? So, without uttering a word, I simply made a gesture that I was going to office and started the scooter.

Ha! Ha! I was able to drive the scooter with a single hand. Oh! How silly of me! In my hurry I did not notice it. It was not to my credit if I was driving with a single hand… the scooter itself was designed for a single hand drive.  In fact, all the people on the road were driving their vehicles single-handed. The only difference being that if some of them were right-handed, others were left-handed. That’s all.

I was wondering how the world got crippled overnight.

There was a hospital on the way to my office. That was a very reputed hospital in the city. People were standing in long winding queue holding their amputated hands. Though there was a “No Parking” sign, I stopped my vehicle aside and asked them what the queue was for? Their answer blew me away. They were all people who lost their hands almost a year back. For the applications they filed then, they got appointment today.

“My goodness!  At this rate, have I to wait for an year for my turn? What’s the alternative?  So many people without hands in this country! I was under the impression that it was last night’s miracle. If one has to wait for one year for treatment, they get adapted to living with the lone hand by the time they get their turn. And if they get operated later, adopting to two hands poses a problem for them.  That’s why most of them settle for living with one hand. It should not happen to me. Come what may, I must apply and get my turn as soon as possible,” I thought.

Leaving the vehicle in the ‘no parking’ zone, I hurried towards the application counter. There, the queue was even longer than the pilgrims’ in front of Lord of Tirupathi. There was at least a rumour that they were planning to reduce the waiting time for pilgrims starting few more queues. But here, there seemed no such planning. It was an unnerving spectacle. If I were to stand in that queue I would come out only after one week. People were attending to their personal care tasks there itself. Sensing the opportunity, hawkers and vendors were having a field day. They were demanding people to buy something or the other. They were swearing and calling them names if anybody did not agree. Sometimes, they were even thrusting goods in peoples’ hands and collecting money frisking the pockets. And if someone was still adamant, they were dragging him out of the queue.  

 “How come you don’t buy something once you stepped out of the house? Why did you, then, come on to the street?” They were shouting at the poor fellows in high pitch.

As of now, I was only missing one hand. If I were to stand here for some more time, I was not sure what other limbs I would be missing. It was already getting late to office. One would need enormous amount of vigour and pocketful of money besides one week leave to fight his way out in this queue.  So I left the place and proceeded straight to office.  

The security guard greeted me with his one hand. Greeting him back with a bow and parking the vehicle in the lot, I got into the lift and soon reached my floor. Everybody was seen working on their computers effortlessly with single hand.  “Can I do as they do?” I doubted.  Keeping the lunch-box aside, I switched on the computer easing in my chair.  Hurrah! I did not feel any handicap working with single hand.  My left hand was working like a seasoned hand with effortless ease.  It was able to negotiate with the key-board and mouse simultaneously.  Everything looked fine. The only matter of regret was nobody seemed to notice that I had lost one hand.  That really hurt me.

I asked my colleague next to me.

 “Till yesterday, every one of you had two hands each. What happened to one of those two all of a suddenly today?”

He laughed rather laconically.

“You are a fool! It was long since all of us had lost our hands. Because you were having your two, you never noticed it.”

He was right. That’s the way of the world. Only when we miss something, we notice if others have it. If we possess everything, we take little notice of others. For all these days, I took him lightly because he was my colleague. Such a great philosophy he said in so few words! Anyway, I was better disposed of compared to these people, for I could preserve my two hands intact this long. I felt a ripple of pride passing through my veins.

Suddenly remembering about the leave I had to take, I entered the chamber of my boss. He was operating the computer with his feet. I did not notice when he had lost them, but his both hands were missing!

After looking at him, for a second, I felt it was not meet for me to ask for leave. But then, realizing I had no other way, I asked,

“Sir! I need leave for one week. I have to submit application for getting my hand reattached.”

That I seemed worse than a ninny to him was clear from his looks.

“If I could find that time, I would jolly well have got my hands reattached long ago. Just for the lack of it, I could not even apply for that so far. If every one of you goes on leave for getting your hands reattached, I have to shut down my business. Tell me, what extra purpose that bloody hand is going to serve you? Get lost and get on with your business.” He said.

True. That was corporate culture. Employees should learn to working unruffled, even while their limbs fall off one after another. Because I lost my hand, I was noticing people missing their hands.  If I were to lose my head, perhaps, I would be knowing how many headless people were there. 

I sank into my seat after that dressing down from my boss.  When I looked at my watch, it was already getting 1 O’clock. The wolf in my stomach was growling.  I crazy thought passed across my mind … how nice it would be if hunger was also short of a hand and a leg; then, this struggle for appeasing hunger would have mitigated by half. I walked out to the canteen and searched for a corner spot and settled there. Before I could open my lunch box Sarayu, my friend from HR came running to me with a box of sweets.

She announced ‘good news’ and without waiting for my response, pushed a laddu into my mouth. Biting it into half and holding one half in my palm, I gestured ‘what news?’ with my eyes, still munching the other half in my mouth.

 “Yesterday, my baby, my darling, apple of my eye… had forgiven me heartily,” she declared with palpable effervescent pleasure.

 “Is it? Forgave you heartily? Come on, how could you be so sure about that?” I expressed my doubt.

Putting the sweet box on the adjacent table and flaunting her two hands to me she cooed…”taattadaaaam…”

They were so perfect. I was bored to death seeing handless people since morning. I examined keenly if they were not reattached. But, no. They were perfectly natural… like the plumes of a royal Swan. They were a treat to watch.

She excused herself to offer sweets to somebody else. Suddenly it struck me why I lost my hand the previous night. Unable to overcome my grief, I broke down and sobbed…

 “Chandu, my darling! Can you forgive me for raising my hand against you?”

***

Arm Stump – Vempalle Sheriff in Indian Literature

 Telugu Original: Omti Cheyyi 

Author: Vempalli Shariff

1600th Post

Ajeya … Kuppili Padma, Telugu, Indian

“All the Rajani fans

Don’t miss the chance

Lungi dance, Lungi dance, Lungi dance…”

I was about to enter the Land Mark Bookshop when the song reverberated in high pitch. I reached for the railing and peeped down. Many people like me were looking down from all floors.

On the ground floor, more than hundred boys and girls of my age were putting their steps rhythmically to the speed of the song. That was a flash mob dance. All the visitors on the ground floor had already flocked around them in a circle.

Not only the people who were window shopping, but also others who were actually shopping were settling around the railings in their respective floors; people who could not find room were taking recourse to the escalator to get down.  Only people in the Coffee shops and Restaurants who were mid-way through their eatables or drinks did not stir out from their places. There were several numbers played … one after another. As the audience responded enthusiastically with whistles, claps and raps, with the high energy songs and their dance, atmosphere in all the floors was getting charged up. Some of them were recording the dance on their cellphones. There were several media cameras focused as well.

That was the biggest shopping mall in the city; and that was the busiest hour too. As I was debating in my mind what this ‘flash mob dance’ could be for, the youth might perhaps thought that they had garnered enough attention of all the people about them, they stopped dancing. Soon, they enacted a Rape Scene with four boys among the youth chasing a girl and the rest closing their eyes. Then they all sang the refrain of an awakening song in unison. After that they stood in circles.

Moving hither and thither among them a boy and a girl addressed the gathering: “Dear citizens, we all knew that the youth of this country condemned the Nirbhaya incident unequivocally. We fought for justice. Similarly we fought for justice to Abhaya from our city.  Still, there is no letup in atrocities on women in this country and in our city.  All of us are aware of the atrocity perpetrated on Ajeya. Tomorrow the Court is going to deliver the sentence. Let us pray that justice will be done to Ajeya. Let us wish that such incidents shall not repeat in our city.  Let us respect women… respect womanhood…”  As they spelt each line emotionally one after another, one of the members from the silent squad, roared, “Ajeya, we are with you,” and gave out the slogan, “We want… justice.”  On the next occasion when one of them announced, “we want…” the public caught up with the slogan and lent their voice, “justice.” The whole area reverberated with slogans and claps.

Clapping with the crowd and sloganizing “Justice for Ajeya,” with them all the while, my voice suddenly tapered off in my gullet and hands failed to meet in a clap as I looked at my hands…

 “Ajeya! Ajeya! Ajeya!

“Who is this Ajeya? I heard this name before!”

Oh! It was me! It was my pseudonym!  However much I tried to remember, I was unable to. That name did not sink into my subconscious, even though months had passed.  What’s this? Why was I clapping and raising slogans?

As I was descending by the escalator pulling the mask over my face more closely with the scarf, I felt, “Hasn’t my life tumbled down as speedily? In fact…” My chain of thoughts broke off as it got mixed up with the announcement from below: “There is a candle light rally in the evening to express our solidarity with Ajeya’s cause. Let us hope that tomorrow’s Court verdict would be an eye opener for all “manimals” who perpetrate atrocities on women…”

Like a white young pup that hies off for the nearest hole scared of visitors at an exhibition, I scurried off from the mall on to the road.

I was walking along the footpath in that jam-packed traffic. I participated in the flash mob-dance when the “Nirbhaya” incident happened last time. I also participated in the midnight rally on Tank Bund with my friends; raised slogans and lit candles in solidarity. Along with my friends I actively participated in every programme in support of Nirbhaya no matter who organized it. I was once part of every gathering that fought for the safety of women and sought justice for the rape victims. What an irony of fate! I who fought that the likes of Nirbhaya-incident should never recur had to mutely witness today … as a nameless victim and an anonymous spectator … a dance seeking justice for my own cause!

Before I could walk down few yards, I was sieged with a bout of cough triggered by pollution and I stepped into the nearest coffee shop to recoup.

I looked around after I felt easy. There was quite a hubbub in the shop teeming with young men and women of my age sitting in two’s or groups with beaming faces and lost in animated conversations. They were updating their FB accounts instantly with the selfies. Of course, I long deactivated my FB account.

For once a crazy thought passed through my mind how it would be if I had opened another account with this masked-face as profile pic and a pseudonym.

What pseudonym would I choose?

Ajeya.

What would Ajeya be doing?

She would be fighting for justice to the victims of a gang rape.

What status updates could she give after all?

Why? So many. She could update with TV debates, bytes of celebrities, candle-light rallies, flash mob-dances, and so on.

I was lost in thoughts about the atrocities perpetrated on women at some place or other every day, when the chain broke off with the high tides of laughter bursting about me. Similar moments of uninhibited laughter crept into my thoughts. What a time it was! A feast of giggling and boisterous merry making! A time oblivious to the past and just living in the present! But now, that single incident had transformed my life into … a lone desolate tree caught in the storm of perpetual memories. A time when life should be bubbling with hopes for future … had been reduced to an enduring desert of haunting memories. Everything had changed since! What punishment is meet for them who deprived me of my lively evenings?

I could not even speak to the bearer but only mimed my order from the menu with finger.

Gee God! What if somebody had identified me without my mask!

“Ay, come on…!”

I was about to utter my name in a bid to exhort myself, but refrained. What if somebody had overheard me!

The cell in the vibrant mode rattled. It was a call from home; most probably from mother. If I answer, she would ask some silly questions like where the matching jacket on her red sari was or where her comb was and put it down without caring for the answer. Perhaps there was something to do with my behavior for her hesitation to ask me directly where I was.

I still remember the day that prompted her to speak to me this way!

***

Some days after the attack on me, I was going out one evening when I heard her say “get back…” and the rest of the words died in her gullet.

When I looked back why the words had died down, I saw dad who was watching TV gesturing with his hands and eyes not to. There was guilt in her eyes as if she had uttered something despicable.

Until then, whenever I stepped out one of them used to ask me where I was going or why I get out at that hour. But, what happened to their liberty to ask their child to come home early? What happened to their cautioning out of concern, anxiety and parental responsibility? Censor! Censor!! Censor!!! Will I ever get a “U” certificate to the movie of my life?

“Nothing! She was just worried out of concern, that’s all,” said father.

“Daddy! Can’t you all behave as usual? Why are you treating me so special?  I am your…”

I couldn’t speak any further and broke down holding him.

“Oh, come on baby! What is this? Even under such great calamity you never shed a tear. What is this frailty all of a sudden,” mother tried to console.

“Sorry! We will be our usual selves, Believe me please!” said daddy with a film of tear in his eyes.

But however much they tried, they could not behave normally.

Some days later, I started off from home around 7.30 in the evening. Dad as usual was watching TV. Walking out at that hour, strolling up to the Neem park in the colony, chomp a chaat or taste an ice-cream and getting something packed for people at home,  buying flowers for worship … was the usual routine. But since that event, the moment I stepped out of house, I am afraid, people were getting restless.

“Where are you going out at this hour? Alone? Better you don’t. Else, why don’t you take Bujji as escort after she returns from the music class,” asked mom.

“Just here… only up to the park,” I complained. I pity her innocence in suggesting me to go out under the protection of a younger sibling.

“Tell me what you want. I can get you,” proffered daddy.

“No. No. No. Better you don’t move about in this colony. However secret we kept the name, and the photo from being displayed, our frequenting to the hospital and the currency of news on TV channels had helped not only the people of our apartment but all people around come to know who it was. The word continues to spread. Had this not been our own house, I would never have stayed here.” Mother forgot that it was not a soliloquy.

“What if everybody knows? Who is at fault? Won’t accidents happen to people, mom? Will they confine themselves to home? Had anything different happened to me? After all it was an accident. Tell me, why should we move out from here?   Do all of you feel so ashamed?” I failed to hide bitterness in my tone.

“No, no. Nothing like that. I just thought that you might feel embarrassed if we continued here. That’s all.” She tried to pacify me by inventing some excuse in a hurry.

I scurried off. I was seized with inexplicable anger, hurt, disgust and irritation. I did not return home for long as I felt deeply hurt and ashamed. Did not lift the phone.

From then on, mother stopped speaking to me directly about my movements. As if she had something important to ask she would give me a call if I did not return home soon.  Just not that, apprehensive of somebody overhearing them, they even stopped calling me by my original name at home.

****

The phone was still vibrating.  If I did not answer even now, I was sure she would be greatly upset. I picked it up and said, “yes, mom.”

“Did you see the nail-cutter?” she asked.

“Nail cutter? Why do you need it now?” I asked

“Nails have grown rather wildly. I want to trim them.”

“Mom! Did you forget that it is Tuesday today? Besides, we are well into the night. You can trim your nails tomorrow. I am at Starbucks. I will be home soon, OK?” I said.

There was hushed silence at the other end.  I got used to this abrupt silence for the last six months.

***

I could have cut short my conversation by just telling her where the nail cutter was.  But to make them understand that they should talk to me as usual, and that I could understand the real reason behind making such calls, and to put across to them that they were not their usual selves… I extended the conversation.

At a corner table, two adolescents of opposite sex were sitting face to face but leant close to each other. They were oblivious to the world and the clamor around. They freely traded laughter and sweet nothings like the capering cataracts of pristine moony nights.

Chaitanya and I resonated even more vigorously once like a cataract in a monsoon.

Oh! We poured out our hearts. You should better ask what we did not talk about.

Once Chaitanya shared his youthful enterprises before he left for his place for vacation. Somehow, they were playing in my mind often these days.

“Every year, a bull-fight would be held in our village. It’s only I among all people in our province who had the courage and strength to confront the beast by its horns,” boasted Chaitanya.

“My god! Bulls! Aren’t you afraid?” I asked.

“Me? And afraid? Ha! They should be afraid of me.”

“Oh! We endorse you are the hero next to Salman and Shah Rukh,” I laughed him away, and asked, “Having come from such a rustic background, tell me, how come you became so sophisticated?”

“I studied up to Intermediate in my village. My mother joined me in a corporate college in Bangalore because she was not interested in joining me in the government college there. That college, this City now and the present job have taught me quite a lot,” he said with a smile.

“Can you attend the bull-fight now?”

“Where are the bulls here? As for the village, there are still bullfights going on but I stopped going there.”

“Why?”

After a brief silence he said, “I have come a long way from that village, those people and that sport. When I look back the fight with those bulls now looks to me barbaric and inhuman. Tell me is it necessary at all?”

“Lost confidence?” I tried to tease him.

“What do you think of me? Even now, if I enter the arena, I can stop not one but four bulls in their track. You can’t imagine the power of these hand.” I loved the tinge of arrogance in his voice and kissed his hands taking them into mine.

But then … what happened that day when he was beside me?

We went out on some work. The route was unfamiliar. At the cross roads we asked the people we came across for the way. They seemed as innocent as rabbits and did not look like were tiger cubs hunting for rabbit. No, they were not even cubs, they were sharks. Perhaps tigers won’t hunt for the rabbits. I wasn’t sure.

For that matter, will the violent and the non-violent faces look alike? Who knows?

Chaitanya who boasted, baring his chest, that he was peerless in his province in stopping the aggressive bulls by the horns in their track was hit on his head and was tied to a pillar. I was just screaming hoarse and strangely words died in my gullet. That hot afternoon seemed suddenly overcast and was dark all of a sudden. I could not open my eyes. First one… then the second… then third…then the fourth… and after that there were countless assaults on my modesty.  The rough ground beneath pricked my back like thousand bodkins. An excruciating pain of thousand forks pierced and pulled out of my delicate body. A soggy, sickening mess around and a foul nauseating smell of thousands of people having thrown up simultaneously… Like a sanctum was sacrileged, like a clueless blight had infested the green field suddenly… my mind went blank and rickety.

My six-pack hero Chaitanya … à la Salman Khan or Amir Khan … who could hold the wild beast by its horns came a cropper before those villains. I had expectations of my friend being a dashing hero. Hero he was, but might not be a daring hero. But then, before such a pack of beasts feigning innocence, perhaps, he could not be a match even if he were.

Forget about Chaitanya, what did people speak about me?

“My God!  Who would dare to interfere with her affairs?  She walks around with razor’s edge looks. Not to speak of men, even a wild animal would shudder to draw near her.”

But, what happened to those looks? A razor’s edge looks?

If mommy was happy that I was let off alive, daddy was happy that the name was not disclosed. But the news spread like an epidemic in dad’s office, my own office, our apartment and to all relatives.   I was hardly into the second month of my job. The phones of my people continued ringing restlessly for some days. People wanted to express their anguish, empathy and apprehensions.  There were also people who did not dare to call us directly lest we should take offence.

People from many walks of life… political leaders, people in power, prominent citizens, several NGOs and women’s forums visited the hospital that day. Our family could overhear some of them directly instructing the reporters present there to cover their visit prominently all media.

That was a great farce. However, some of them, particularly students, some of the women’s forums, NGOs, and Human Rights Commission pressed for justice to Ajeya; they had made, and been making several protests since.

The police officer who was in charge of the case was very serious. He talked so sensitively.  He gave the confidence that he would round them up.  And he worked seriously to arrest them too.  He was so supportive that my family members felt confident and reassured.

Of course, there were routine and insipid discussions and debates on TV about the way girls dress up, their going out alone at night etc., as usual whenever such unfortunate events happen. When I heard some of them speak foolishly that such events happen because of the way girls dress up, I felt like standing nude before them. Will nudity makes criminals of people? Can’t their psyche of accusing the victims as criminals change?

Why did those fools come upon me? What was there in their minds that prompted them to behave the way they did?

The lawyer from the Human Rights Commission who visited me that day, Mr. GV, used to meet me frequently. Because I was comfortable with his friendly attitude I shared many things with him.

That unfortunate event had left scars on my lips and indents of bites and scratches on every inch of my body. There were marks of surgeries and antibiotics used under the excuse of containing spread of infections; marks of healed up injuries and scores of  unhealed injuries, still raw, on my back. Compounding them, there was this recurring pain of hysterectomy depriving me of my motherhood forever. My mind was teeming with burning memories.

***

What would be the verdict like? Will they get commensurate sentence? People clamor for capital punishment to them.  Yes, that’s the most befitting; they should get nothing less.

Didn’t my parents who never entertained the slightest idea of violence to their darling daughter were petrified and agonized for this crime? Hadn’t my sister been frightened out of her wits?

For the kind of sufferance they put my family to, no amount of punishment would be enough.

*

Some five or six months into the event, Chaitanya and I were once walking along idling in some pep talk. Appreciating my laughter, when I was giggling at his jokes, he tried to embrace me close and kiss.  He was taken aback when I pushed him violently shivering all over. After I regained my composure it was my turn to be surprised. I never knew until then that my body would react so wildly at the touch of a man. The very idea unsettled me.

What punishment would be fitting for infusing such fright into my psyche?

I thought of seeing them once. I wanted to know how they would look like. I was curious if they would entertain the same lousy thoughts about me at the hour of judgment, when they see me standing before them surrounded by police.

Would they get the same wicked desires? Look at me as before? Would they laugh as wild? Use the same profane language? Encourage each other with their dirty laughter like when they perpetrated the crime… two of them holding me by hands and legs and the other attacking my body?

When I expressed my desire to see them, the police officer said, “When do you want to see them? I can make all arrangements but, they should be willing to see you first.”

Can I see even a trace of fear in them who attacked me? Will they recall the desperate struggle I made that day?

I wanted to meet them but they did not give consent.

One day in the course of my conversation with GV I said, “My poor mother was after astrologers and vaastu experts seeking why things happened this way when there was no bad aspect from any planet in my horoscope. Everybody who read the horoscope only predicted a bright future.”

“It is just meaningless to run after people in the name of astrology or vaastu.  They have identified that in all 8 people attacked you that day. 5 of them were minors and other three, below 20 years of age. Though every one of them had some criminal history or other, there was not a single complaint in the police station. They attacked on you as usual in their wont way. Earlier they were doing their crimes either individually or in groups of two or three. This was the first time they all came together. One of them, they allege, eloped with a neighbor’s daughter but returned alone after some time. No one knew what happened to her. Her people were afraid to lodge a complaint. Another one is alleged to have sold a girl in the red-light area. When her people raised a hue and cry somebody mediated saying they would gain nothing complaining to the police and settled the issue,” paused GV.

“The boys look nothing short of poisonous snakes. When they spoiled the lives of innocent young girls they escaped scot free just because there were no complaints against them. They might have no idea what would be the consequence of their atrocity on a life they were altogether unfamiliar. Perhaps, they did not even care to think. But life will not allow such safe passage every time,” I thought and said, “I want to see their surroundings.”

After a lot of discussion we forbade Chaitanya to accompany us and taking every precaution from being identified, I visited their surroundings incognito with GV.

“How narrow and intricate these paths were! Why not governments seriously work to improve the standard of living of people in every way? Why not they pay attention to the influence of such abominable conditions on the increasing rate of crime?  I think we should raise these questions with some responsible people,” I said to GV.

“That exactly is the problem.  Governments can identify the problems but seldom put a step forward to mitigate the circumstances. Not only that, the violence on women of a particular area by the youth of that area doesn’t make any news. Law and order takes no notice. Similarly, the atrocities of male members on women or working maids in gated communities or independent houses will not come out. Though violence on women is all pervading, it will catch the attention of the public and recognized as crime when youth of lower classes commit atrocities on upper class women. They create uproar, shake people from their slumber and become news.  We should seriously think why it is always so,” said GV.

Whose carelessness or lackadaisical attitude was responsible this I don’t know, but they made my life miserable.  One day the police and lawyer called me over phone and said, “We have filed the case perfectly. We are sure justice will be done to you.”

What is justice! What happens? What punishment will be given to minors?!

None of them behaved like human beings with me. They will get off with token punishment in on the plea of being minors.  But what did the youngest of the lot do? He was the first to attack me. Sitting on my legs, and squeezing my breast wildly saying “this is not zero size…” did he not use obscene words and goad others into the crime? Can you call him a minor? How heinously the rest of them behaved! What sentence would they get after all? Can anyone call those boys who were exposed to every kind of depravity and behaved so heinously as minors?

“If today I am deprived of my uterus, isn’t that boy responsible for that? Chaitanya lost his senses watching the wild way he misbehaved with me. And today they will all get away with serious punishment on the ground of being minors. It is something different when a child from miserable background lies, steals or attacks in defense or commits a murder. But what they did to me was totally different. GV! I have nothing to say when people talk of their rights.”

He was listening.

“I am not sure the kind of sentence they should get. I think of capital punishment for a while.  Then I want to spit on their faces.  Later I wish they should get life. Then I think they should be castrated lest no other girl should suffer from them. I also feel like handing them over to people who seek justice for me. What if I hand over them to my parents? Thus I understand the kind of sentence varies with the vagaries of my mood. If only someone could scan my mind. Perhaps they would be able to realize what exactly the sentence I seek for them. But with all that, how can justice be done to me in their punishment…

What sentence is proper for them who stood me as a monument of apology before people? After they complete their sentence, will they speak apologetically for the rest of their lives?  Who knows?  Tell me, GV, what sentence would do justice to my dreams shattered?” I burst out.

Taking my hands into his he said, “Cool down, please! I can understand your agony. Every change of law, every amendment to the Section 375 of IPC was an outcome of the poor victims like Bhanwari Devi or Mathura. The recommendations made by the Varma Commission after the Nirbhaya case are very pertinent and far reaching. You should try to understand the circumstances around us, more importantly, the circumstances that enter into the society to pollute the minds of innocent children.  It could be the way you look at the law or the sentence. I can send you some books readily available with me that can help you deal your pain and your circumstances with understanding. I can send you other books over time,” said GV.

With the books of K Bala Gopal, he added a note saying, “Read these books. They will be of great help in understanding issues relating to violence in society.”

How long can I stay put at home?  So I proposed that I would get back to office.  Mother did not accede.  Later, she conceded rather reluctantly but suggested that I should join a new job than resume duties. Even in a new job, I should explain why I resigned my earlier job.

Here, people are at least familiar to me. Somehow I convinced mom and joined duty.  They kept very comfortable but I found in that extra comfort something very suffocating. Maybe they were more concerned that either people or media would say something against them. Can’t I remain an employee as before?  Should I look for another job?

Added to that I became very irritable and was getting angry frequently. I was never like that before. Sometimes, I did not feel like going to office. I was apprehensive that people might raise the subject.  I explained to the doctor about my mood swings. If the attack on me was no mean thing is one thing, the other is hormonal deficiency.  I felt like slapping them.

I could not decide what sentence should be fit for the people who put me to such mental conflict.

Ever since I came to know that the court was going to deliver the sentence tomorrow, I was greatly agitated… disturbed… and filled with indifference.  The court would deliver the sentence only tomorrow. Perhaps there are never commensurate sentences for some crimes.

What does a sentence ultimately mean?

When the teacher punished at school for talking loud in the class or for not doing the project work did anybody refrain from not repeating the mistake? Who knows? Did I ever care for a possible punishment? Perhaps there needs to be circumstances that give no room for violence. Then, there will be no discussions and dilemmas if a person should be awarded life or capital punishment.

*

The phone vibrated once again. I got up started slowly homewards.

I met Mr. Ramanatham, a retired bank officer who lives on the 4th floor in the lift and he sad, “I heard in the news that the verdict would be delivered tomorrow. All the best! God bless you, my child!”

***

Since morning I was able to overhear alternatively in English Hindi some news or the other. Father’s fingers were playing with the buttons on the remote. Grandfather did not stir from the TV. Whether she was attending to kitchen chores or performing puja, part of mother’s attention was on the TV. Bujji, my younger sister, was busy chatting on cell phone.

“Let there be more decoction in the filter. Someone or the other would be visiting throughout the day,” mother was instructing grandmother.

“Everyone may not like coffee. Let me keep buttermilk as stand by,” suggested grandmother.

“Everybody was busy answering phone calls.

“Not so early. Maybe by noon the verdict will be delivered.

“Change to CNN, they are giving a better coverage.

“NDTV is also doing fine.

“If justice is not delivered, Arnab will hang them out to dry.

“ABN

“TV9 Exclusive…” were audible to me.

“You should better have worn a normal sari than with a gaudy and glittering design like this,” someone was complaining about another’s attire.

“I don’t have anything like that with me…” she was replying.

“Why?  You wore it while attending puja at my elder grandmother’s place,” some other reminded.

“Media people may come. Why don’t you have a shave?”

“Who cares? They are not going to show the face any way.” Somebody commented.

 “They don’t your daughter’s face. But, as her father, they will ask for your opinion for sure,”

In the chaos where I could hear the conversations part clearly and half vaguely, Chaitanya and his parents arrived.

“We have been asking Chaitanya for long tell you this but he has been postponing saying it’s not the time.  We know that your daughter is innocent in what had happened.  But we are helpless. We have no other go but to cancel the marriage. The whole media is giving him coverage since morning as Ajeya’s friend. Of course, they said the same earlier. The queries may ultimately turn to their love and marriage. Though it is not appropriate, we are telling you.  Please tell them they are only friends. Nothing more. Don’t tell them that we have cancelled the marriage. Kindly keep this subject away from media attention. We have to face the music,” pleaded Chaitanya’s mother rather apologetically.

I called Chaitanya into my room.

How can I remind him of our sweet warm text messages, of our giggling evening-outs, our collective dreams for the future, and the sweet silent kisses at that hour? I did not feel like reminding him. I was really a fool. It did never strike me that someday Chaitanya would raise this issue. After all, love is so fickle that it changes with changing circumstances. Yet, somehow my heart had become a sea in a storm.  I just wanted to ascertain his reason.

“Why do you want to cancel Chaitu?” In spite of my best efforts to contain my emotion kicked through my voice.

“Mother is totally against it. I am not really interested in cutting off our friendship.  Mother is not willing for our marriage,” he said.

I tried to regain composure keeping silent for a while and said, “Chaitu! We often hesitate to call a spade a spade when it comes to things we dislike or can’t handle. It’s not new that people take cover under the name of mothers or parents. You say is that I am just your girlfriend now.  Isn’t it? But why should you say it now? Like the familiar scene of bride running away from home just before marriages in movies, are you afraid of media comments and your prestige? After all that had happened in my life, how can you expect either me or my people speak about our love and marriage even if they had asked about it? Even father had said the other day that you are my friend. He never said that you are my boyfriend or that our marriage has been fixed.  I think we did not understand each other properly. When we should have shared sweet nothings we are sharing the consequences of pain. I understand Chaitu,” I said.

Strangely, there was no regret in his eyes. Instead I saw a great relief. That means… I could really understand what a burden he felt I was for him. Poor fellow! For a man who boasted that he could stop a wild beast in its track, his helplessness that day might have hurt deeply. Who could help him come out of that trauma! Perhaps it was my mistake to expect that two injured people can stand support to each other.

“OK Chaitu, no bitterness,” I said.

He then left my room.

That day I wept after a long time. I could not restrain the streaming tears.

For the people who deracinated my love, what punishment would make it take roots once again?

What was my fault? After the brutality on my body, everything had changed forever in my life. After all, what is it? It’s just a part of the body … an organ like any other. If an accident happens to any other organ of the body, people never treat the victim differently. I understood it is only in this kind of accident will the victim be treated weirdly.  In the rest of cases the behavior won’t be so abstruse. It was all calculated.  Everybody was like that.

I came out of the room.

“How can they behave like this? Will they react the same way if it happens after the marriage? In spite of what had happened I was reassured that Chaitanya would marry you. I was confident there you have somebody who can stand by you. What can we do now?”  Mother’s voice trailed off with pain anguish and concern all at a time.

The film of tears in the reddened eyes of father betrayed his fears.

“For the injustice they did, if we complain to Arnab Goswami he would teach them a good lesson,” shouted grandfather in anger.

“Let’s us tell this to TV9 people,” said grandmother.

“Not necessary. Our neighbor is a journalist in ABN. I will ask him to invite them for the “open Heart with RK” programme,” suggested my aunt.

I understood that the abruptness with which my marriage was cancelled unsettled all my people. Forgetting about the sentence to the perpetrators, they were now depressed that I might never get married. Like the breaking news on the TV, in our living room the cancellation of marriage was the hot news scrolling with bang.

 “He was so fond of her. How many times did she call you their daughter in law? How can they back out?” mother was repenting.

“Hypothetical question, mom! I think it was our selfishness to expect Chaitanya to marry me after knowing what all had happened. Instead of thinking like my mother, you put yourself in his parent’s shoes and then think how you would react” I said.

“I am sorry. I can’t help thinking other than a mother. Don’t worry. We search wherever he is and perform your marriage with a boy nobler and large-hearted,” she hurried to reassure me as if I was worrying that I could get never married.

“Why you should say sorry? You can’t think any differently but my mother,” I said.

Everybody got back to their business and was going through the motions to give an impression that everything was normal. People who were watching TV were back to browsing the channels with the remote.

Suddenly someone said, “Untimely floods…” and changed the channel.

I asked him to get back to the channel.

It was a terrible scene of flood.  Standing on the top branch of a tree, a middle-aged man was trying to save his life by holding on desperately to the feeblest branch. The whole government machinery was trying its best to save his life. The reporter was describing how it was getting more and more difficult to reach out for him.

When I looked at his struggle to save his life hanging on desperately, I was reminded of my own lonely struggle that day. Many people stood by my side now. But it was I who suffered the violence gnawing my teeth. From now on, I have to stand by myself.

“They cannot give capital punishment to minors. At least for others they should…” I cut the phone abruptly as my dad was responding to a phone in programme.

“Why did you cut the phone?” asked daddy in a huff.

“Don’t pray for a death sentence,” I said.

Ignoring the bewildered looks of daddy when I was about walk out,

 “Where are you going….” mother swallowed the rest of the words.

“Up to the park,” I said.

“You forgot your scarf,” mother reminded.

My younger sister brought it in a hurry and handed it to me.

All along, I was wearing the scarf around like a mask to conceal my face to the world.  I took the scarf from my sibling’s hand and kept it on my mom’s shoulder and walked out determined.

Rape, punishment, love, hatred, friendship, enmity, loneliness, infatuation, desires, and continence… this heart already experienced in a small span of life.  In my wool gathering, I inadvertently felt for the wonted sensation of scarf on my face. My mind did not record that I had left it at home.

They hurt me deeply. They snipped all my budding dreams. But I was able to protect the fire of life within me with both hands. This little fire shall kindle ablaze and shall be a beacon for the rest of my life.

***

 Telugu Original  AJEYA – 17.01.2015 PDF

Kuppili Padma Short story writer, Poet
Kuppili Padma
Short story writer, Poet

 Kuppli Padma is a  well Known  Writer, columnist and Media Professional.

She has to her credit  6 short story collections, 2 Novels, and scores of  articles in print and online magazines. She brought out an English translation of her short stories recently.

She has been the creative Head  for fiction  at Zee TV and Maa TV.  She ran  and continues to run weekly columns in many web magazines. She is a recipient of many awards and accolades.

Adolescent dilemmas, single woman issues,  work place issues , consumerism and globalization are her main plank. Her strong women characters meet the challenges with aplomb and face the consequences  with courage and confidence.

She is widely translated and many of her short stories found their way into many anthologies.  Her work has been taken up for  M.Phil and Ph.D. studies in some of the Universities.

    

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