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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Silence is not a mere word

About the Author: 

Shri Munipalle Raju was born in 1925 at Munipalle, a village in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. He spent his childhood in Tenali, a town that is known for its contribution to arts and literature in the early 1950s. 

He has four short story collections, including 'Munipalle Raju Kathalu' and 'Divo Swapnalatho Mukha Mukhi,' two collections of free verse, one collection of literary essays, 'Journalism Lo Srujana Ragaalu', and one novel, 'Poojari', (filmed by late BN Reddy as Poojaphalam in 1964) to his credit. 

He is the recipient of First Jyesta Literary Trust Award, First Raavi Sastry Memorial Literary Trust Award, Telugu University Award (twice), Gopichand Award, and Andhra Saraswathi Samiti Award, among several others.

His 'Astitvanadam Avali Teerana', a collection of short stories, won the Central Sahitya Akademi award for Telugu fiction in 2006. It contains sixteen stories that are rooted in the rural milieu. They take the readers on a nostalgic trip to the ancient Vedic culture, as the characters in these stories struggle to come to terms with the all-pervading modernity. The result is: while the writer is pursuing his spiritual quest, his protagonists encounter intense conflicts. Cumulatively, the reader enjoys a meaningful discourse about life and its complexities.   

The Central Sahitya Akademi termed his work as an exceptional contribution to Indian short fiction in Telugu.

The present story, 'Silence is not a mere word' is from the collection that won the Central Sahitya Akademi award.

Silence is not a mere word

Original in Telugu   Munipalle Raju

Translator- GRK Murty

"Silence is peace. Silence is a boon. Silence is the blue sky’s spread out. Silence is the beauty of the flower-decked valley."
* *  *

When he opens the doors of the bedroom, the sikhara[1] of Rama’s temple grants Rao its august presence. Offers a Namaskaram[2] from within the heart.  Hazy darkness. Tulasi[3] at the dawn. Silence—the spiritual encasement of Indra’s bow. 

Walking slowly, enters the central hall, switches on the bulb, and lights an incense stick before Saibaba’s photo; followed by offering Kakada Aarati[4]—“Bhai[5], so long as I am there, are you to fear about the  amassed karma[6]?” 

Returning from there he has three sips of water from the copper pot, puts on the radio to listen to devotional songs. Mild silence. Mind’s eye in its fullest bloom. Great peace. 

Well within ten minutes, the buzz of the milk van; tokens for two liters.

In another two minutes, Ram Lal Mishra, father of Major Kishan Lal—the resident of the first avenue of the colony—announces his arrival:“Rao sahib[7] … mai aya hu![8]” 

White canvas shoe. Morning stroll … circling the colony … three kilometers.

Widowed Mishra … problems with daughter-in-law. In that silent beauty of dawn’s merriness … conventional lamentation sort…

On return, attending to natural call… bathing in cold water… two idlies followed by a cup of tea.  

Homeo medicines to those four or five waiting outside… 

Mother tincture for the insomnia of Mishra; tuza for the wart on the finger of Paramashivam.

Nux-vomica for the mild indigestion of Narayana’s daughter.

Kamala: “You’ve given Palsdella earlier.”

“Yes! But changing the potency now.”

“Good medicine.” 

Rao garu[9] never heeded the advice: “Instead of sitting quietly chanting ‘Rama’, ‘Krishna’, why this flood of people all around.” 


Silence is like the giant tree that spreads wide with prop roots.  Silence is the exit door.

Time - a wrathy serpent hiding in a corner.

That morning—

Milk van’s bell … once, twice, thrice. “Milk” … “Milk … Sir” 

Coming down from the upper floor, elder son took the milk bottles. Nannagaru[10] won’t be that lazy ever to respond!  Five minutes.

Mishra’s call: “Rao sahib”…. “Rao sahib, aren’t you alright?”
“OK ... OK”

Amma[11], didn’t dad get up? Not in the room!”

Dhanurmasam[12]. Might have gone to the temple nayanaa[13].

Those waiting for the sweet homeopathy pills have left. Mishraji came again and went back. Temple doors were closed. Grandson and granddaughter are in a hurry to go to the convent—“Won’t you tell in advance about white shoe polish getting exhausted?  Where are the tiffin boxes?”

It’s perfect peace after the kids have left for the school—in that ultramodern house.

Son doubted. Daughter-in-law came. Sandals are here only. Water in the copper pot is as it is—full.  Blanket is as it was folded. Hasn’t slept in this bed last night? Window is shut. No incense sticks before Saibaba. Radio is silent.   

“Dial up the younger one.” No ... no, hasn’t come. Why that anxious tone?

Daughter-in-law is intelligent.

See the letters.

None new. Old ones were already spiked to the iron rod. He keeps his bank passbook in the drawer, look for it.

“It’s very much there.”

Send wire to bavagaru[14]. Send wire to babai[15].

“Go to the hospital by scooter and come back”—instructions to the younger brother.

It’s an insult if others hear it … tell he has gone to a town.

“When likely to return?”

“Ten days.”

Son was holding his head.

Amma, what was it … last time you and naanna[16] were arguing about?”

“Got annoyed, for I said, ‘watching TV pillalu[17] went to bed late; turn off the radio’.”

“After all, he too knows it, doesn’t he? Does it warrant so big an argument amma?

“Don’t know what is in his mind. He was speaking in an irritated tone with akka[18] too. The concern for his [side] people is ever predominating.  Affairs of this house never mattered to him.”

“Why, akkayya[19] too, with aggressive postures, talks so harshly to him. Everyone wants to maintain a sense of self-respect.  What else, after all, remained to be done by him in this house?”

“She was worried about her son not catching up with mathematics; whereas he is pestering him to reciteSumati Satakam[20] verses. Naturally, anyone will get annoyed.”

“Just for that…?”

“Nayanaa… why speaking of this and that person? What did you do? When he came to say something before your friends, coming inside, your asking him to keep his mouth shut for a while—was it appropriate?” 

“That’s not the issue… He talked about performing obsequies for his father… ‘not possible in the house, arrange it in a mattam[21]’, said attayyagaru[22]. Since that day he stopped talking”, said thus intelligently, younger daughter-in-law. Double-edged tongue! 

“He hasn’t implored to any of you … His money. After all, right from cooking-maid he is making every arrangement on his own. Who will not have concern for his own kith? Is it wrong? Chi-chi-chi—I have nowhere seen such people.”

 From far off, Pedanaanna[23], babai, bava came.  Went away. “Rao sahib se kuch khabar – kuchletter[24]?”

“For all this, you are responsible.”

“Can’t he understand people that much, what for then? Uttered something in a bad mood. You don’t know—that very night I went to his bedroom and sought his pardon,” said son. 


Silence is perfect knowledge. A repentance. Silence is a word of seven letters. Seven oceans.
*   *   *

Four or five years after— 

… a letter came from Palem hermitage.

“For the last four years, Sri Rao garu had been the resident of this ashram. He conducted himself as a great rishi[25] as though always in a transcendental meditation. Served the fellow old-residents to the extent he could. On the last Rathasaptami[26] day, while in his sleep, his atma[27], merged with theparamatma[28]. Recently only we could lay hands on his old papers, and got this address. We are also in receipt of money that he intended to gift to the ashram through the bank. Dhanyajeevulu[29]. If you wish, we can send you his papers.”

Silence – a shade of the tomb.

Silence – a giant serpent.

Silence – a great dream too.
*    *    *

An enlarged photo of Rao garu is now prominently visible on the wall.  Incense sticks are smoldering in front of it. A garland is adorning it. 

…authorities of the Palem ashram have sent all his papers.

No one dared to open and read them. Remained as silent sounds of the worn-out palm leaves.

Yet – 

The bell of the milk van didn’t stop ringing.

Gudisikharam—continues to glitter in the rising sun’s rays.

Ram Lal Mishra’s call, however, is not heard. 

Now silence—a fear. An anxiety.
*   *    *

[1] Sikhara—refers to the rising tower, mostly of brass, in the Hindu temple architecture of India over the sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity is enshrined. Sikhara is the most prominent and visible part of a Hindu temple, seeing which Hindus feel blessed.
[2] Namaskaram—a way of offering prayer by Hindus; also, is a common spoken customary greeting when individuals meet, and a valediction upon their parting. A non-contact form accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest.
[3] Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)—is a sacred plant for Hindus and is worshipped by Hindus as the avatar of goddess Lakshmi.
[4] Kakada Aarati—offer of lights (with five wicks) to Sri Sai Baba at the dawn.
[5] Bhai—Saibaba’s devotees are usually addressed as “bhai”—“my dear”.
[6] Karma—in Vedanta, it is the non-material residue of any action performed by a person, the cause of embodiment and of Samsara. In popular terms, every Hindu is inclined to attribute everything that happens—fortune, or misfortune—to his/her karma. Karma is commonly used to denote: action, destiny and also ‘prarabdha karma’—karma inherited from the previous birth.
[7] Sahib—a polite form of address in Hindi, often placed after a person’s name or title.
[8]mai aya hu”—“I have come.”
[9] Garu—a polite form of address in Telugu, often placed after a person’s name or title.
[10] Nannagaru—father.
[11] Amma—mother.
[12] Dhanurmasam—a name given to a period of nearly one month. It starts usually around 14-16th December and extends up to the mid-January. This period ends with Makara Sankranti. This month is considered highly auspicious by Vishnu devotees.
[13] Nayanaa—affectionate way of addressing the younger ones.
[14]Bavagaru—sister’s husband.
[15] Babai—father’s younger brother.
[16] Naanna—father.
[17] Pillalu—children.
[18] Akka—elder sister.
[19] Akkayya—elder sister.
[20] Sumati Satakam— A book of 100 poems (Satakam) in Telugu. Sumati Satakam has been extremely popular for a long time with parents and teachers trying to teach the right conduct and social values to young children.
[21] Mattam—a monastery.
[22] Attayyagaru—mother-in-law.
[23] Pedanaanna—father’s elder brother.
[24]Rao sahib se kuch khabar – kuch letter”—“any news from Rao sahib – any letter”.
[25] Rishi—a sage or saint.
[26] Rathasaptami— is a Hindu festival that falls on the seventh day (Saptami) in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month Maagha. Rathasaptami is symbolic of the change of season to spring.
[27] Atma—the soul.
[28] Paramatma—the Supreme Soul.
[29] Dhanyajeevulu—blessed person.

(Published in Netram – Quarterly – 1995.)


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