Google Translate

Friday, August 13, 2010

Maarpu Veneka Manishi

(Man Behind the Change[1])

Original in Telugu by: Seela Subhadra Devi

Seela Subhadra Devi is a Telugu poetess of repute. She received an award for Best Writer from Telugu University in 1997. In 2001, she wrote a long poem Yuddham Oka Gunde Kotha (War a Heart’s Ravage) on the aftermath of 9/11. In collaboration with late Dr. Bhargavi Rao, she compiled the much appreciated anthology of one hundred women poets in Telugu titled Mudra (1997). She has published eight compilations of her poetry, some of which include Aakali Nrutyam (Dance of Hunger), Aavishkaram (Launch), Oppula Kuppa (Beautiful Lady), Ekanta Samuhalu (Solitary Society). She has also published two collections of short stories: Devudibanda (God’s Stone) and Rekkala Chupu (Sight of Wings).

Translator: GRK Murty

Amma[1]! Take care of your health! Nannagaru[2]!  You both must try to come to us as early as possible!”

Attayyagaru[3]! Keep writing letters! Mamayyagaru[4]! We take leave of you!”

“Pinky… Bye-bye, ta-ta… cheerio!” As the son, daughter-in-law and the two-year-old granddaughter proceed inside for check-in, they slowly fade out.

As they start moving inside, staring at them blankly, Srilakshmi waves her hands mechanically. ‘‘Come on, let’s go!” Venkatarao, putting his hand around her shoulder, leads her outside the airport.

Even after boarding the taxi, Srilakshmi does not say anything. As though meditating upon something, she slips into a reverie. Venkatarao tries to strike a conversation, but realizing that she has not yet come out of her trance, remains silent.

After reaching home, changing her sari, Srilakshmi goes straight into the kitchen to drink water. Seeing the sweet packet lying on the table, at once she is overtaken by sorrow and sinks down in a chair.

Setting right the things in the front room, Venkatarao, listening to the sobs coming from the kitchen, comes to her and saying, “What’s this Lakshmi, like a kid, what’s this crying?” pulls her closer to him.

Srilakshmi remains silent, but her sorrow intensifies.

Saying, “I was so happy that you have been brave all along, but what is this, why this sudden cowardice?” he wipes her tears.

“All along we have been looking forward eagerly for the arrival of Raja and Ramani? At last, they came, but stayed for half the period at their in-law’s house in Delhi; then came to us, but without staying even for four days left for Ooty and Darjeeling, and returned home just before the departure date and flew! I haven’t even got the joy of taking up sweet Pinky in my arms even for once contentedly. Nor did I have the pleasure of listening to her sweet talk. Look, to stay in the town and the home in which he was born and brought up for 25 years, he behaved as though he is on a bed of thorns. Because he stayed for five years in a foreign land, this land and parents became sore to him. All through those years he lived drinking this very water, but today the same has turned out to be poisonous. During all the days that he stayed here, he bought water from the shop and drank. See how he has changed!” laments Srilakshmi.

Venkatarao does not say anything. Remaining silent for a minute, Srilakshmi continues, “As Ramani’s mother and father visited them when the younger one was born, we could not go. Except through videocassettes, we could not see the kid contentedly. Knowing that he loves to eat putarekulu[5] and kajalu[6], I bought them, but he left them here saying luggage might exceed. All through his stay of four days, he has been displaying irritability and vexation. And his saying at the slightest opportunity, ‘you both too come down there,’ has pained me so much!” sobbing, she disgorged all the sorrow in her mind.

Listening to all this, Venkatarao says, “Lakshmi! You might be mistaken! Not that he has changed, maybe our perception has changed, please think over. Even if at all there is a change in him, it is perhaps normal to humans. Why think of it so much, spoiling your health? They have been speaking to us on phone for all these years! We have never felt that his love for us has diminished, nor did we ever feel that he distanced himself from us. It’s only after meeting him in person, we are feeling like this. Having been used to all the comforts of that land, they might have felt some discomfort here…”

“Oh! Come, stayed here for more than twenty-five years. After all, it’s not even five years there, got so accustomed?” murmuring, she gets up.

Venkatarao follows her to the front room.

Though days are rolling on, the pain in her mind pierces like a thorn. Not being able to contain it, she calls her daughter Ravali, who is staying in Vijayawada, on phone and pours out her agony.

When her brother came to Hyderabad, Ravali came with her family and had a chat with all of them. She had invited her brother’s family to Vijayawada to stay with them for two days.

Indeed, Raja’s family visited them and enjoyed their hospitality. Ravali did not notice any change either in her brother or in her sister-in-law. Maybe due to generation-gap, or leading an independent life with one’s own family or, maybe after a particular age, it’s perhaps natural for human beings to change a little. She wonders if her mother has been misconstruing the whole thing, but fearing that if she says so she may feel more agonized, she tries to pacify her by saying this and that.

Srilakshmi feels that her daughter too cannot understand her rightly. Not being able to say anything further, she swallows her pain.

Three months pass by mechanically. Raju and Ramani have been calling on phone every week and talking to them.

One day, Srilakshmi’s cousin, Ramanarao, a school teacher in a village in Konaseema, drops at their house, without any advance notice, right in the morning saying he has some work in the DSE office.

That night, after having dinner, as they sit together chatting, Srilakshmi, not being able to contain her sorrow, shares her agony with him.

“It’s quite natural for people who by virtue of staying in America for four to five years and having got used to those comforts, to find it difficult to adjust back home. His disposition towards both of you is as it was in the past, right?” said he.

Except to stare at Ramanarao angrily, she remains silent. Next day, as his work was over, while leaving them, Ramanarao tells them, “It’s quite long since you have come that side! Apply for a week’s leave and both of you come and stay with us. On the return journey, you can go to Vijayawada and visit Ravali too!”

“It’s not possible to apply for that many days’ leave!” says Venkatarao.

“Not a big deal, look for one or two government holidays this or that side of second Saturday and Sunday, and apply for four days leave, you can easily manage a week or ten days. Anyway, as you don’t apply for leave that frequently, all your entitlements must be lapsing. For once, you apply, nobody will elope your office!” Ramanarao teases his brother-in-law.

“OK! We shall make it annayya[7]. After my marriage, I haven’t gone that side to stay except to attend your daughter’s marriage!” Srilakshmi cheerfully assures him.

Inviting them repeatedly, Ramanarao takes leave.

Ever since Ramanarao leaves them, Srilakshmi starts pestering Venkatarao for visiting Konaseema.

All of a sudden, the opportunity arrives for the fulfillment of her wish.

Venkatarao gets an opportunity to go to Vijayawada and Rajahmundry for fifteen days on an auditing assignment. They plan to go together to Rajahmundry; Srilakshmi would first stay in Konaseema with her cousin Ramanarao, and then, depending on the time required for finishing his official assignment in Rajahmundry, she would stay in her brother’s house in Rajahmundry for a couple of days; thereafter, she would stay in Ravali’s house in Vijayawada till he finished his work there.

Srilakshmi starts making arrangements for the trip. Her mind becomes featherlike. Suddenly, she is swamped with childhood memories. Remembering her childhood experiences, she starts narrating them to her neighbors and Venkatarao repeatedly. She describes the beauties of Konaseema and explains the good nature of the people there.

Srilakshmi’s father had been a big farmer in Konaseema. She spent her childhood in that place. Being the only girl child after three sons, everyone tended to her affectionately. She studied only up to high school level. But kept herself busy doing embroidery, stitching, etc.

As none of Srilakshmi’s brothers was interested in agriculture, after acquiring good education, they settled in Vizag, Rajahmundry, and Kakinada in government jobs. After Srilakshmi’s marriage, her father expired. Thereafter, her brothers, disposing of their agricultural lands and house in the village, shifted their mother to their house. With that she never had the chance or the need to visit that place again.

Of course, in between she did go for Ramanarao’s daughter’s marriage, but had not been able to stay there for long as her son’s marriage was fast approaching. Now, the very thought of going to stay there after a lapse of so much time makes her excited.

The lush green fields on either side of the road, the fine breeze blowing over them, the coconut trees on either side all along the road standing like King’s servants fanning and bowing; the fragrance blowing from the flowers of the bommajemudu[8]  bushes standing here and there on the bunds…even as she recalls, Srilakshmi’s mind gets intoxicated.
The day for which she’s been all along looking forward to finally arrives.

They start by Narsapur express and get down at Narsapuram. Ramanarao receives them at the station. They board a boat at the wharf and cross the Godavari. After reaching the other bank, Ramanarao engages a taxi to their village.

Through the taxi window Srilakshmi peeps out in search of rice fields. Looks forward to the call of the breeze blowing over the fields. But all that she sees ahead is prawn tanks. There is no trace of rice fields. In despair, her eyes droop. Coconut trees standing along the roadside look as though paralyzed. She is not happy with it. In between there are houses exhibiting modernity with dish antennas. Srilakshmi’s mind is clouded with sorrow.

Ramanarao and Venkatarao start discussing how paddy fields got converted into prawn tanks. None of it is entering Srilakshmi’s ears.

They reach the village. Kamala, Ramanarao’s wife, greets her affectionately at the gate itself and takes her inside.

“Water is kept ready, will you take bath first? Or, will you have tea?” asks Kamala.

“First bath and then shall have tea vadina[9]! Meanwhile you give them!” Saying, she walks towards the bathroom with clothes in her hand, casting a searching glance around the backyard.

A little away, there in one corner, was the bathroom. The backyard is full of coconut trees, mango trees, banana plants … and what not.

After taking bath, while returning to the kitchen she walks carefully, yet her feet get soiled. Before entering the house, she washes her feet again and comes in. The folds of the neatly pressed sari get soiled. Srilakshmi gets a little vexed at it.

Placing a wooden plank on the floor and making Srilakshmi sit on it, Kamala serves her in a plate hot steaming upma[10] seasoned with lots of cashew nuts.

As they chit-chat, Kamala finishes cooking lunch. Since they had met after a long gap, and got caught in a merry conversation, none of them notice the time.

Having finished her lunch, saying she had no sleep the whole night during the journey, Srilakshmi lies down. In the meanwhile, ladies from the village—those who knew Srilakshmi— come to greet her. Though tired, Srilakshmi gets up with great difficulty and sits with them.

By the time they all leave, it is 4 o’clock. Kamala then serves all of them sunniundalu[11]  and cashew fried in oil, seasoned with salt and chilli powder. Though they like the dishes, Srilakshmi and Venkatarao cannot eat well because of fatigue. Finishing tea, they start for the seashore. The sea is about two kilometers away from that village. They pass through cashew orchards, casuarinas fields, and drains by walk. Half the way they come across a tar road. Though it was laid for ONGC usage, it looked like a bridge to enslave the villagers to town-habits.

All along the way, as Venkatarao and Ramanarao talk about changing villages and diminishing wealth of the villages, Srilakshmi and Kamala talk about their family affairs and children.

All along the coast, people are collecting prawns. As there is no convenient place on the shore to sit, and fearing that it may be difficult to return in the dark, they start back immediately.

By the time they reach home, it is time to put on the lights. Although there is electrical power supply, due to low voltage, lights are glowing like bed lamps.

As the body is sticky due to sea breeze and sweat, everyone first has a bath.

Although she has felt like helping Kamala in cooking, Srilakshmi cannot do anything because of poor light.

“You are not used to this Lakshmi! Doesn’t take much time, I shall do it!” Thus comforting her, Kamala finishes cooking swiftly.

As Srilakshmi and Venkatarao suggest, “We shall all sleep in the front yard; it’s long since we have slept in the open yard under the breeze of coconut trees,” after finishing dinner, camp cots were laid outside for everybody.

While chatting with them, Ramanarao dozes off soon snoring merrily. Kamala too, perhaps being tired, falls asleep soon.

Despite the coconut and mango trees all around, as though the air was paralyzed, leaves were not even fluttering. Over it, mosquitoes become another nuisance. To protect from mosquito bite, if she covers herself with a blanket, she is drenched in sweat. To avoid sweat, if the blanket is dropped, mosquitoes have a field day.

Srilakshmi spent the whole night sitting on the cot fanning herself for sometime, and whenever her back ached she reclined on bed for sometime. The village being closer to the sea, its water tasted salty. That was why she did not feel like drinking the water kept under the cot. Even if she felt like drinking it out of compulsion, then the fear—the fear of going to the toilet located at the far corner of the backyard. She tried to divert her mind to something else, but she could not. “Oh God! When would it dawn!” Thus the whole night turned out to be a nightmare.

Venkatarao too suffered similarly, but in between he managed to go out for a walk on the field bunds till tired and then came back to sleep for a while, but after a while he got up again to go out.

Looking at Ramanarao and Kamala’s sound sleep, they both wonder.

In between, both had been enquiring of each other: “Aren’t you getting sleep?” Before dawn, Srilakshmi tells Venkatarao, “After having lunch in the afternoon, we shall start at 3 p.m. and go to Rajahmundry. We cannot spend another night here. Even if it is required, we can revisit from Rajahmundry for a day before the work is finished.”

Venkatarao, silently nods his head.

Morning passes off all right. While taking lunch, Venkatarao and Lakshmi reveal their journey plans.

“How come? Going back so soon! You said you would stay for a week,” Kamala and Ramanarao gently protested. A trace of surprise and displeasure was evident in their utterances and body language.

“Before we complete our work in Rajahmundry, we shall come back again, annayya! Rajahmundry annayya will otherwise say, we haven’t stayed in their house!” said Srilakshmi feebly.

Kamala of course does not say anything; presenting a sari and blouse piece, and applying vermillion on Srilakshmi’s forehead, she says, “No sooner you have come than you’re leaving us.

If you have affection for us, do visit us again!” The tenor of her tone clearly has a streak of taunt.

However, regaining her composure immediately, she says laughingly, “Won’t stop from visiting us again, because we have presented a sari!”

Holding back her mind, which was melting under their affection, and remembering the sweat, the dirt, the salt water and the mosquitoes that didn’t allow her to sleep, Srilakshmi starts reluctantly.

She does not speak a word all along the road. Yet her mind is fully occupied by her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Seeing the murky water, which comes on alternate days and unable to drink it, her son buying mineral water from the shop; with the load shedding and the resultant power offs, her granddaughter not getting sleep in the nights and the resulting unrest of hers; not one, … all those events swarm her mind. Yet, Srilakshmi does not say a word all through the journey.

Reaching Rajahmundry and lying down under the fan, as though she suddenly remembers, she tells her husband, “We too have become slaves of town-habits!”

Venkatarao is already fast asleep, snoring.

[1] Amma - mother
[2] Nannagaru - father
[3] Attayyagaru – mother-in-law
[4] Mamayyagaru – father-in-law
[5] Putarekulu- “sugar coated foils”—made with finely ground sugar powder and rolled in fine laminated foils made of rice. A traditional sweet of coastal Andhra Pradesh.
[6] Kajalu—a traditional sweet of Andhra Pradesh, made with refined wheat flour, rice
flour, sugar and butter
[7] Annayya—brother.
[8] Bommajemudu—prickly pear, cactus.
[9] Vadina—sister-in-law.
[10] Upma—a breakfast food, originally from south India, made with semolina.

[11] Sunniundalu—famous traditional sweet dish of Andhra Pradesh, made with black gram, jaggery and ghee.


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Recent Posts

Recent Posts Widget