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Friday, August 17, 2018

‘Cheppula Danam’ (Gift of Chappal)

Originally in Telugu: Munipalle Raju

                            **


As the saying goes, “For Vighneswara’s marriage, there arise thousand and odd obstacles”, whenever Venkatramaiah contemplated of buying chappal, one or the other obstacle emerged invariably!

In fact, right before his retirement itself, the old chappal, having worn out badly, not only caused pain to feet but also disturbed his walking pace a little, he, wondering, “what great deeds he has to now perform?” postponed the yajna [1] of buying a new pair.  Though got them repaired by paying a quarter coin, half coin or a full coin, for ten to twelve times, could they be made new?

It’s only after three months of his retirement that he could get his dues of provident fund and gratuity into hand. Immediately thereafter performed the marriage of his younger daughter. So, now except for the pension nothing else is in his hand.

**
Counting the pension amount, Venkatramaiah’s wife questioned him, “What’s this?”

“Have to purchase chappal,” replied Venkatramaiah… quite nonchalantly.

“You also planned for this month? How am I to manage, if you don’t keep track of events? Won’t you remember son-in-law and Rajyam will arrive either tomorrow or day-after for festival?”

Without uttering a single word, Venkatramaiah returned the fifty rupees that he had retained from the pension to his wife.

That evening, he went to park without putting on cheppals. An unaccustomed effort. Obviously, he was delayed. Fellow pensioners are about to conclude their session. Nagabhushanam, who often exhibits closeness to him, cutting jokes, said, “Look our Venkatramudu’s stinginess is increasing. Sons and daughters-in-law are earning. Would buying a pair of Bata cheppals devour his wealth?”

Well before Venkatramaiah replied, their conversation turned to quality control of cheppals.

“When we were in villages, didn’t those country-made leather cheppals lasted for two years? Wearing those cheppals, when the sons of rich farmers visited their in-laws houses did they lose their shine even after six months? Those days were different—golden era. After the emergence of these shoe companies, we are to change once in every six months.”

***
Even in the following month he could not buy cheppals, for his wife questioned: “You also picked up this month? Don’t you remember we have to perform two annual death ceremonies?”

That evening while going to park, he stopped at a road side cobbler.

“You are hitting too many nails. Can’t you stitch with thread?” said he.

“It’s beyond my reach. You think these torn out parts would remain intact with a stitch of a thread?” Thus saying, he returned the cheppal after fixing them with bigger nails than usual.

Limping slightly, he could manage to return home. There is a little commotion in the house. Elder son and elder daughter-in-law are both employees. They are hosting a dinner for their office-mates. Leaving his cheppals in front of his cot in veranda and calling his granddaughter he said: “Tell your bamma [2] to get a glass of water thalli [3].” As his wife is passing on the tumbler, his granddaughter rushed back. “Tataiah [4]! You should not leave your cheppal here.” “Why thalli?” Intervening, his wife clarified thus: “Tonight officers are perhaps coming for dinner. You recline on the terrace by spreading a mat till they leave.”

Venkatramaiah of course didn’t get angry. If he were to, he would have walked away long back. Last week, as he was taking his granddaughter for a stroll, his son said from behind: “What is that amma! Walking on the street without cheppal in that old dovathi [5] and a mere uttariyam [6] ? He worked for so long. He should have at least purchased an ordinary watch? And yet, he didn’t get disturbed by it. 

Of course, he hadn’t heard what his wife might have replied, but he felt it apprastut (irrelevant) to tell them why he hadn’t purchased a watch, or  why he is still putting on those worn out clothes. Venkatramaiah is not a man who broods on the past.

**

Even after the guests left the home after dinner, Venkatramaiah didn’t come down from the terrace. Coming up, his wife woke him up by shaking. She felt his body is unusually warm. “No sensible man would sleep in the open for this long. Come on… up… up”, saying she took him down.

His temperature didn’t come down even next day. Going to office, his son told his mother irritatingly: “What is this, nanna [7] didn’t get up yet. If anyone visits us, the veranda looks shabby. Wake him up and ask him to take bath.”

Venkatramaiah couldn’t however take bath. Washing his face and neck with cold water, he came back and reclined on the cot.

As he failed to present himself at the park for three days in a row, Nagabhushanam, Gajapathinaidu, and Ramasharma came straight to his home.

He is however, unconscious by then. His right leg is reddened with a swelling. Both his elder son and younger son are in the process of taking him to the hospital. For, a young doctor, a friend of them, examining him said: “Looks like gangrene, needs to be hospitalized”.

Crestfallen, his wife, standing behind the door, has been listening to her husband’s friends’ comments.

**
Finally, they could get him admitted in the Rajendraprasad memorial ward. Finishing his chores with patients of his private practice, civil surgeon, Venkata Vamana Hanumantha Prasad garu reached the ward lately. Having arrived at the ward, he first visited the beds of all his private patients. That evening he has to fly to Bombay to attend an international seminar of the surgeons.  Being in no mood to browse through the case sheet of Venkatramaiah, the new patient, saying a few words to the assistant surgeons, he sat in his car.

And, these assistant surgeons, Apparao and Raghunandanrao, were in the opposite groups of the recently concluded ‘reservation and anti-reservation’ agitation. Raghunandan has very recently returned undergoing an advanced training in surgery from All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Scribbling in the case sheet “gangrene… for immediate amputation of right leg” and instructing the Head Nurse to inform the operation theatre, he has gone for lunch break.   Apparao, the senior, getting wild at it, scribbling, “Biopsy—pathologist to report” shown it to nurse instructing her to understand what he meant, retired to his room.
That day the ward boys of pathology department are on strike. The report could only come on the next day evening. It has however confirmed that the gangrene has indeed become quite septic.  

***
Amputation of Venkatramaiah’s leg is scheduled for the very next day. Receiving the telegram his eldest daughter came straight to the hospital.

Elder son pleaded to Dr Raghunandan: “Doesn’t matter the cost, but please save my father”.
Saying, “It’s not the question of cost—babu… at least, you should have warned him not to use that cheppal pair studded with old nails,” the doctor hurried up the nurse.

Surprisingly, as he was being taken into the operation theatre, Venkatramaiah regained his consciousness fully. He called for his elder daughter. He has immense love for her. Caressing her hands, he requested, “Bring your ear close to me thalli.”

“Your mother is a village girl. Thalli, do you know what I had purchased immediately after starting our marital life? Cheppal. How happy she was!”

Immediately Venkatramaiah fall unconscious again. Not being able to make any meaning out of what he said, she cried profusely… but he didn’t see her face even.

By the next hour his leg is amputated.  In another half an hour, as the doctors were still engaged in stitching the leg, Venkatramaiah, finishing his journey in this world on the very operation table itself, left for unknown destiny. 

***
Urgent telegrams are sent to Venkatramaiah’s blood-relatives.  It exactly costed them fifty rupees.

Even to transport the dead body of Venkatramaiah from the hospital to the house, it costed fifty rupees.

Even the cost of garlands that his three friends have brought independent of each other was fifty rupees.

After the cremation, giving away of cheppal as alms by the sons of the dead Venkatramaiah was one of those Shodasi danaalu [8]!  So, not being satisfied with the quality of cheppal brought by younger son, the elder son got them replaced by procuring a fresh set from the Bata showroom. Their cost too was fifty rupees. 

Seeing the gifting of the cheppal to the Brahmin, Venkatramaiah’s granddaughter enquired: “Nanna, tataiah was left with only one leg! Why then you are giving two? The cost of that question too is fifty rupees, perhaps!  It might have been many years since Venkatramaiah died. Yet every year they are performing death-anniversary. Even if sons forget, his wife is ensuring that at every ceremony cheppal are given away to a Brahmin as alms. 

*      *      *
Originally written in Telugu, ‘Cheppula Danam’  by late Munipalle Raju and was first  published in Andhra Prabha Vaarapatrika in 1988.

**

[1] Yajna – a ritual “acrifice, devotion, worship” done with a specific objective by sitting in front of sacred fire, often with mantras , usually considered as a great feat– the storyteller, perhaps wants us to realise that purchasing a pair of cheppal has indeed became a yajna-like effort for Venkatramaiah.
[2] Bamma—grandmother
[3] Thalli —an affectionate way of addressing young girls equating them with one’s thalli, mother
[4] Tataiah —grandfather
[5] Dhovathi —the loincloth that is traditionally worn by Indian men by tying around waist
[6] Uttariyam —the upper cloth
[7] Naanna —father
[8] Shodasi danaalu —as a part of antyesti, last rites, traditionally, the progeny of the deceased person give away 16 kinds of alms to Brahmins and one of them is chappal.
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