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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nostalgic Musings

Original in Telugu by:
D. Sujatha Devi

Smt. D Sujatha Devi is a well-known short story writer in Telugu. Reading her stories is like “a journey through pain, sorrow, loss and deprivation,” said Munipalle Raju, a noted writer in Telugu. She has published her stories in three compilations: Vekuva Rekulu (1981), Gelupu (1986) and Chepalu (2005).
Her contribution to children’s literature is much acclaimed—fetching her, at the national level, an award from NCERT, New Delhi. Her verses written in Telugu for children have also been translated into English. 

 GRK Murty

Getting down from the train enthusiastically, Usha looks around to see if anyone has come for her. If not anyone, thinking that certainly, Sangeetam cannot stay away from coming, and looking all around the station for him, she did not notice Sivannarayana till he enquired standing by her side, “How come, you came alone?”     
“Oh! You have come annayya! Thinking Sangeetam might come, I was looking for him”. Perhaps sensing more displeasure in her tone at Sangeetam’s not coming than pleasure at his coming, there appeared a streak of irritation in his face, but it disappeared as soon as it came.
Taking the box from Usha’s hand and inching forward, Sivannarayana says, “Haven’t brought even the children, why so?” “Can’t afford to forego school for that many days annayya, can they! Asked children and him too to apply for leave up to Monday. By Saturday he will come with the children.”
Saying, “So, a warning to me that you all would leave on Monday”, Sivannarayana laughed stridently.
That laugh sounding like that of the rocking of shells, appeared rather unnatural. Usha looked at him critically.
“How is it, you haven’t come with a bullock cart!” As Sivannarayana hires a rickshaw,  Usha, standing by his side, utters in surprise, “What, rickshaw!”  Saying, “still craving for bullock cart ride, come, get in”, Sivannarayana sits in the rickshaw with the top.
She sat silently by his side in the Rickshaw, but her mind was not silent. Though the forgotten past was rocking her mind silently with its humming, Usha, as long as the Rickshaw was traversing through the roads of Eluru, peeped out to see if any known person would be visible. She intensely examined every face walking behind the Rickshaw. Felt like asking the Rickshaw to take a turn towards Sarswati girls’ school where she had done her schooling and take a look.
Anticipating  that Sangeetam would come with a bullock cart, she had planned to go around the school; then, washing her feet in the canal flowing by the side of Anjaneyaswamy temple, pay a visit to god; then, peep into the house of Pedasubbaraomastaru, and then go home. As the bullocks would take to the village road, they would start running … their bells making a jingling sound … she craved for that sound. The very realization that she hadn’t visited the village for this long made Usha wonderstruck. Peddamma passed away. That’s it; she hasn’t come to the village again. Eight years have elapsed since. She had often wondered as a child, if she could ever live without peddamma. But … Ha, time! Effacing even mighty affections, it rolls on. In those days, if anyone said, “Once married, and with the arrival of husband and children, will you remember us?” she used to be overwhelmed by a mighty sorrow.
Crossed Eluru. Rickshaw has taken the route to Mahadevapalli. Traffic has eased on the gravel road. Usha’s eyes, mind, and her very thoughts were fully occupied by her peddamma. In her childhood, peddamma, while churning buttermilk early morning used to make her sit by her side and study. As she was reading past with no mistakes, she used to look at her with tons of affection, eyes dilated. Particularly, after her marriage, whenever she visited her, she would see her off by coming up to the temple. While going back, she used to fondly caress her body, her searching eyes fondly looking at her whole body again and again, and in those  eyes, Usha used to see a fluttering pain that made her tremble with a ‘feeling’ that is beyond description. Even to date, peddamma means … those eyes, those fond glances …   for a minute, her mind would go numb. Although her mother passed away when she was a child, peddamma brought her up without letting her ever feel the absence of her mother. As long as peddamma was alive, Usha never told anyone that her mother was no more. Perhaps, it might have been out of her love for her sister, or her luck! She had two sons. They too looked after her well. Of course, it’s needless to say about Pedananna. But at her wedding, when peddamma gave her gold jewelry weighing 100 grams, their faces turned pale. That aside, two years prior to her death, when peddamma transferred five acres that she got from her parents as stridhan to her, even pedananna objected to it. But since then till date, he had been sending the income from the land on the dot along with accounts. After so many years, a necessity has now come to sell that property. Having written about it in a few disjointed words, she boarded the train. But in her heart of hearts, she was worried how her sisters-in-law would talk, whether brothers would be affectionate, or not. Felt alright about annayya coming to the station. But she was a little disappointed at Sangeetam’s not coming.   Sangeetam might have got married. Sometime back, pedananna had said, “Got married, and why, he is alright.” As Sivannarayana said something, Usha, stopping her thinking, turned to him. As they are talking about their share of pains and pleasures in life, the rickshaw had come to the village.
As she got down from the rickshaw, her sister-in-law put her hand affectionately around her shoulder. Although, there was not much intimacy and friendship between her and her elder sister-in-law, those smeared pyols, turmeric dabbed thresholds, paddy ear heads hanged to the eaves for sparrows, have all dugout the past, bringing forth old memories; the fact that peddamma, who left this world sometime back, had not made her presence felt yet and the new realization that she would never appear at all … all these thoughts, like a flood in a fury forced Usha to lean on her shoulder and cry.
Saying, “Cha… what’s this…come on, lets go inside”, Sivannarayana’s wife, Ramana, took her inside, affectionately. After a while, Chinnanna, Ramchandrudu came. All of them recalled their childhood deeds.
It’s not known whether the thought of her – the girl who had grown in this house – not coming home for this long ever struck them or not; it had certainly disturbed Usha’s mind repeatedly. Pedananna sat by her side for sometime and keeping his hand on her head, shed tears. Despite the presence of so many people, Usha wondered now and then why Sangeetham was not visible. Finally, she asked about him. “Why the hell are you ignoring all the inmates of the house, and repeatedly asking about that arrogant fellow?” said Sivannarayana irritatingly. “That fellow has gone long back” said Ramu. Gone… means… Usha could not understand, what it meant. “He is no more that Sangeetham, who ate our leftovers… he became a big leader”, said Ramu tauntingly. She then kept quiet without making further enquiries. However, she could not but wonder how Sangeetham could be an arrogant fellow. 
Usha could sense the displeasure of the whole house about her selling the farm. The house, brothers, growing children, the estimate of the income … somehow she could not see that pomp which she saw in her childhood. Thinking all that, Usha went into the room in which a bed was laid for her and reclined herself on it. She again remembered Sangeetham. He might have counter-questioned. Therefore, she felt, he might have been kicked out. Never knew why, but whenever peddamma comes to memory, Sangeetham too walks into her memory. He used to attend to her needs with more affection than the respect that an ordinary annual laborer might have exhibited towards the Master. Whenever she remembers the incident that made his existence alive in her memory, her heart quails even today. Her mind, tired from the journey and longing for sleep, suddenly became active. It went back to ten years. In those days, life was full of colorful dolls, flower bouquets and singing birds.
Pebbles in the river water of ankle depth and peddamma’s love and affection. For all these things, Sangeetham was the background music. Usha was then twelve years old, like a doll she used to roam around and play. The buddy of peddamma, means darling for the whole village. Sangeetham who was older by four years to Usha, was working as an annual labor in their home, ever since the age Usha could remember. For him, Usha meant everything. If Usha adorned herself with good clothes, vermillion and collyrium dabbed eyes, he would look at her as though he was staring at the idol of a goddess. If a thorn pricked her foot, he used to flutter as though a speck of dust had fallen in his eye. She appeared so tender to him that if she laughs, he thought that her body might blush and if she walks she might wither away. Taking undue advantage of his sensitivity, she used to tease him a lot. She used to make wild demands on him: Ask him to fetch her water lilies from the middle of the tank; tamarind fruits hanging from the tender branches high above in the sky. Insisted that he carry water without holding kavadi with hands; drive the bullock cart without holding reins in the hand. Once, when Sangeetam was suffering from stomach ache, Peddamma gave him mint flower to swallow. As he was about to swallow it, she suggested that he chew it for it would relieve him from the pain quickly. Heeding to her advice, he did chew it. As he started crying and jumping due to the burning sensation in his mouth, she laughed at him, clapping mischievously. He too joined her with a laugh. Peddamma, of course, scolded Usha. When Peddamma questioned how she could laugh while he was crying in pain, those words did prick her mind like a thorn.
One day, she sat on the cradle applying henna to her palm. Sitting there, leaning against the post, Sangeetham implored her to tell a story. Saying in bits and pieces … Usha lures him.  A boy came, and saying post master had instructed him to give it, threw a card towards Usha and disappeared.   Usha asked him to put it in the niche in the wall. No sooner he had seen it than his face lit like a thousand watt bulb. Those small and big letters, erasings, corrections, was what the card was made of.  He knew that the message it has brought was from his mother. “Ammayagaru, Ammayagaru … please read and tell me, it has come from my mother”, he implored.
“Oh great … you say it is from your amma, why me then to read it?” quipped Usha. Questioning, “How do you know it is your mother’s letter”, she teased him.
Saying, “I know it, it has come from my village”, he looked at the letter fondly turning it this way and that. But she could not sense the nip in his tone.
“With henna on my hands, how am I to now, shall read it after washing my hands”, said Usha mischievously. Holding the card close to Usha’s face, Sangeetham said, “I shall hold it like this, please read for me. Meanwhile, as Kamala of the opposite house came calling Usha and ran away, Usha, without caring for Sangeetham’s imploring looks or his pleadings even, she at once jumped and ran out. Sangeetham’s eyes welled up as he looked at the card in the hand turning it this side and that. Hoping to get it read by Peddammagaru, he peeped inside the house. Working till then, she had just reclined. He sat there holding amma’s letter in his hand. He could see all those letters. They appeared to be the muggulu that peddamma drew in the front yard, like the circles on Usha’s skirt, like the horns of the ox, like the share of the plough – they appeared in so many ways. But he could not decipher what his mother said. He felt sorrow at his plight. In the meanwhile, the Master came in hurriedly. Sangeetham felt as though ‘life’ revisited him. As he was about to open his mouth, his Master commanded him, “Orey! Quick, go and fetch Venkai, hurry, run. Emey! Get up, long-horned buffalo is about to deliver…” he hurried up his wife. Sangeetham could not open his mouth. Throwing the card into the niche in the wall, he ran out. It was late night by the time the buffalo delivered and all that is associated with it was well taken care of. Sangeetham was doing everything ordered by them, yet his mind remained squarely glued to the card his mother had written.
As he entered the house, he started searching for the card. It was not there. Holding back his tears, he said, “Ammagaru, it’s the card my mother wrote… I kept it there”. “Oh! That, Usha might have taken ... shall ask her… have your food, come!”
“Not feeling hungry, search and give the card amma”, said he. He sat there holding his breath till she came out of the room.
“Could not locate where she kept it, she is sleeping… shall give it tomorrow”, saying, she went inside.
Sangeetham could not hold back his sorrow. Nor was there anyone who cared for his crying. Went inside the cattle shed and lay down curling into himself. He felt no difference between himself and the cattle around him. He could not sleep that night. It was dawn. Attending to his work, he kept an anxious watch for Usha to get up. She got up. He uttered, “ammaigaru, letter.”
“Letter? Gave it to brother in the night. Hasn’t he given you?” said Usha.
“Don’t tease me amma”, he said crying.
Staring at his face she felt sorry for him.
“True… by the time I returned you weren’t around. Peddamma said I should not go into the cattle shed. So, I gave it to brother…” said Usha consolingly.
Enquiring the whereabouts of Peddabbaigaru, he started searching for him. At dawn, he had gone to Eluru for fertilizers.  Indeed, Sangeetham had seen him go out. But how is Sangeetham to know that his mother’s letter is in his pocket?
This time round Sangeetham didn’t cry. He knew if Peddabbai goes to town, he will return only by midnight after watching two or three movies. Searching everywhere in the house, Usha concluded that the letter is in her brother’s shirt pocket.
Peddabbai didn’t return that day. But by the next morning, news came that Sangeetham’s mother had passed away. The man who came with the news said, “Didn’t send him even when we wrote about his mother’s imminent death … what kind of people are you?” Sangeetham stood with his face drooping. Usha was however, about to cry. If only she had read the letter yesterday, he would have had the last sight of his mother. Going nearer to him, she laid her hand on his shoulder. He at once cried in waves. Suddenly it dawned on him that his mother is no more and she will never come back. Putting his hand on Usha’s hand that was on his shoulder and placing his head on her shoulder, he cried inconsolably. Everyone around were shell shocked by this unexpected event. Just then Sivannarayana came. Saying “How dare you”, pulling Sangeetham by his hair, he spanked him left and right. He kicked him out saying, “Get out you bastard”. Wiping his tears and blood, Sangeetham went away.
Later, as she grew, even if he came before her, she avoided him. She felt, it would be nice if Sangeetham could make it to her marriage. But he didn’t. She had, of course, seen him when Peddamma died. The heat of her reminisces made the past pretty hot. Cooling them off with tears, she could, after long, fall asleep.              
With the conversations she had with her brother for the last two days, Usha had decided … to leave that land for them and to take whatever money they might give whenever. After that decision, Usha had peace. They are the progeny of peddamma. Happily, she considered them as her brothers. By Saturday evening, her husband Shankar came to the village with the two children. The brothers-in-law treated him affectionately. Her pedananna, his eyes welling up, said, "If your peddamma had been alive, seeing you both and children like this, she would have felt very happy.”
Usha, saying she was going for a stroll, started with her husband. They could locate Sangeetam’s house in the hamlet without much difficulty. It is a shed covered with grass. Right before it, is a neem tree. Just then, Sangeetam came out of the house and stared at them in wonder.
Sangeetam could not utter a word. He felt choked – could not even say please come in. Eyes were filled with wonder, pleasure and disbelief.
Asking him affectionately, “Are you alright?” Usha, telling her husband, “please sit”, sat on the cot.
After a while, Sangeetam could regain his composure. He was cultivating two acres of land on lease. Got married. And has a girl child.
He called, “Papa”.  Along with papa his wife came out and saluted Usha.                         
Drawing papa affectionately to her, Usha asked, “What’s your name?” Papa said: My name is Usha.  


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