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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Brave

Original in Telugu:

Smt. T. Srivalli Radhika

She hails from Ongole. A noted poetess, with a good collection of free verses, she has to her credit three compilations of short stories: Alochana, Amrutham, Maharnavam, and Swayam Prakasam. In her stories, she expounds human relations with a touch of ‘humanity’ without confining herself to any ‘ism’. She won an award for excellence in creative writing from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University.

GRK Murty

Srujana was walking fast in the dark. In the recent past, she had never been this late to home.
It had been quite long … having felt like visiting her once, straight from the office, she had been to her friend’s house in Kachiguda. It was then half past six in the evening.
On the way, she had planned to sit with her friend for half an hour and return. But once they slipped into chit-chatting, half an hour had become an hour and an hour became two.

Finally, when she started, it took another half an hour for bidding farewell at the doorsteps. In all, it was 9:30 p.m. by the time she came to Koti bus stop.
The last bus was at 9:40 p.m. On arrival at the bus stop, looking at the watch, she thanked her stars for being able to arrive ten minutes before. But the pleasure didn’t last long. Even after waiting for a quarter of an hour, the bus didn’t arrive.
The number of women in the bus stop started thinning gradually. When it struck her mind, “By any chance, could the bus have gone!” her heart quivered.
“How can I? At this hour, it’s not safe even to go by auto!” she thought with a shivering heart.
For a minute it came to her mind: “Shall dial up home!” As her eyes searched anxiously for a public telephone booth, she again thought, “What for!”

“No one is at home who would come here to pick me up. Dad is not keeping well. Amma[1] and nayanamma[2]  are not at all capable of coming out of house at this hour of the night. Had annayya[3] been at home, he might have come by borrowing a vehicle from any of his friends! But he was not in the town. Except to make it to home, somehow or the other, all myself, there was no point in calling home. It would only cause anxiety to people back home.”
As she was thinking thus… there, far away, she could see the bus coming. Seeing the familiar board on it from a distance, she heaved a sigh of relief.
“Colony bus! It’s coming!” said to herself with a heart that was just settling from its fast pounding. Boarding the bus, she felt as though she almost reached home.
At 10:40 p.m. she got down from the bus and as she was walking towards her house… all the fear that seized her mind till then slowly dissipated as pride started occupying its place.
“Ten-forty, by the time I reach home it would be 10:50. That means, it would be around 11 o’clock. Why around! It would just be 11 o’clock!” Her watch was running slow by 10 minutes. Eleven o’clock means…one hour less to midnight. At this hour, she was going home all alone! Leave aside the question of women on the road! There is no movement of any human being. To a great extent, most of the houses were covered by darkness.
Although light was visible from a house or two… it was only from one room. Either the men known to watch TV till midnight, or students studying must be awake. The rest must be sleeping. At this hour… all alone … she was walking without any fear.
“Who will have such courage! It’s me who could come with such bravery. Without going to either a relative’s or friend’s house located near Koti bus stop seeking shelter… without calling the people at home on phone and subjecting them to anxiety… could come alone to the colony located this far without any fear… all because I am quite courageous!” Srujana felt proudly.
“It’s when women could walk at midnight without fear… to some such effect people talk as though it’s an extraordinary event. What’s so great in it! Hasn’t she come now! One should have courage within, then there is nothing that cannot be accomplished,” she thought confidently as she entered the house.
With the creaking sound of her opening the gate, the light was on in the drawing room. Before even pressing the calling bell, the door opened. Seeing her granddaughter Satyavathi said, “Why so late!”
Srujana frowned. As though she had not heard her, walking towards the inner quarters, she almost cried: “Amma! Serve food… terribly hungry.”
She did not like coming across of her nayanamma as she entered the house… and posing that meaningless question.
Right from her childhood Srujana was not habituated to such scolding. Her parents had brought her up with quite a lot of freedom. Whenever she was to go anywhere all that she was supposed to do was to inform them… there was no occasion of seeking their permission ever.

They had immense faith in her character and her wisdom. Srujana was always proud of herself at her winning the confidence of her parents.
Whenever she heard her friends say… even if we are late by half an hour… people at home would put hundred questions… she used to laugh at it till yesterday. As against it… ever since nayanamma came everything had changed.
Till three months back, nayanamma was in native village. It was only after realizing that she had become old and it was no longer wise to stay alone… disposing of the house there she came to Hyderabad.
Srujana did like her coming. Her talks… the dishes that she cooked for her… songs that she sang … all were to her liking… but it was only these kind of questions that irritated her.
Her preaching, “Girl means must be like this… girl means must be like that”, sounds interesting to listen. But to practice, it’s not easy!
“She keeps on saying esoteric words such as, politeness… aptness… harmonious…”
Serving curry to the granddaughter who was eating her food with a peevish face, Satyavathi said again, “If you come home at such a late hour in the night, won’t we be anxious!”
“Why anxiety!” questioned Srujana violently.
“Because you are a girl,” said Satyavathi.
“To be afraid, it doesn’t matter whether one is a man or woman! Anyone could be … aren’t there timid guys among men?” asked Srujana mockingly.
“What I am talking of is not about your fear! About our fear,” said Satyavathi staring at her with a smile.
As Satyavathi was saying cajolingly, “Girls not returning home well before dusk means discomfort…” before she could complete the sentence, Srujana said violently, “Am coming daily well before dusk.”
“I don’t wander on roads aimlessly. After so many days… today I went to my friend. I hardly sat there for two hours. And it became this late.” Although Srujana said it indifferently, her throat got choked.

“What wrong did I say!” said Satyavathi with a pale face.

“If only you had come early… there would have been no anxiety…” thus muttering, she moved away from there.
Srujana sat still for a minute… the food in her hand remained in hand … the food in her mouth got stuck there.
Hearing her mother reminding her, “Eat, eat… eat your food,” Srujana looked at her meekly. Co-mingling her impatience and pain, Srujana, in a choked tone, said, “What’s this ammanayanamma … as though I have committed a wrong … questioning so many times… am I not aware of my welfare!”
For having come home at this late hour of the night, that too bravely with no fear… instead of complimenting… when she was accused, she could not stomach it.
She would have been happy, had at least her mother recognized it, had prevented her grandmother from putting such questions.

“It’s OK… being an elderly woman… obviously, is a little afraid,” said Suseela as though to pacify her.
With that Srujana cooled down a little. In anticipation of a little more appreciation from the mother, she said, “Don’t you know amma! How careful I will be when I go out!”
Suseela smiled. “That’s alright. It is already 12 o’clock. Eat quickly and go and sleep. Why do you mind her words! Their days were different. These days are different. In those days it was a great wonder for a woman to come out of the house. Obviously, it is difficult for them to stomach the fact of a woman staying out of the house till midnight! How then, could elderly women have the kind of courage that the educated and employed girls like you have! You must understand that.”

Although she felt an element of admonition, a kind of preaching morals in her mother’s tone, all in all, she liked her mother’s reply.
Inferring that her mother meant: “… grandmother is timid. You are brave. You have no need to mind her words,” Srujana laughed contentedly.
In that happiness, she ate food quickly and went to bed.
 * * *
 Next day, as Srujana woke up, Satyavathi and Suseela were found busy with their hectic work. Seeing them rushing through work, Srujana realized that it was Sreerama Navami[4].
Normally, there would be no such hyperactivity for this festival. As everyone in the house started doing a job in one or the other offices, the habit of celebrating every such less significant festivals was on the wane. Even to celebrate those four or five major festivals had become a big task.

Looking at the glittering house with rangoli[5] in the front yard and the garlands of mango leaves hanging from the doorways, she felt, “It’s all because, this time round nayanamma is there!”
Watching Srujana getting ready for office, Suseela said, “Why not apply for leave today!”
“No way!” Srujana said sorrowfully. Indeed, Srujana too felt like staying at home to enjoy the festival. But she had to execute an urgent work in the office that day itself.
“At least, can you make it for lunch? It would not be ready before you leave.”
Listening to Suseela’s suggestion, Srujana nodded her head, as though to say it was OK. She however said, “Shall take permission to come at 3 o’clock.”

“Even if you start at 3.00 there, it will be 4.00 by the time you reach home, how can you stay till then without food?” said Satyavathi anxiously.

Srujana laughed indifferently. “What nayanamma! Why do you get anxious for every petty thing! You do not know what you should fear and for what you need to be brave,” said Srujana playfully.
“True. How do I know! Like you, am I roaming outside! Am I seeing the world! Chanting Sita, Rama, I am simply sitting in one corner!” said Satyavathi dragging her tone.
Srujana glanced at her confusedly. She wondered fretfully, “Did nayanamma listen to what mother had said last night?”
How come, this sarcastic reply… Was she, by any chance, listening to our last night’s conversation! She looked into her face with doubt.
But no such indication could be seen on her face.
Srujana, returning to her normal disposition, said, “It’s not mere chanting of Sita, Rama, Sita, Rama, what does that matter! While chanting their names you must indeed understand their personalities. You always pester me with your accusation: ‘You roam outside’, ‘You roam outside’… but hadn’t Sitammavaru crossed the Lakshmanarekha[6]! If I say that, you might say, that’s why she has undergone all those sufferings! That’s not what one should understand from it. She did boldly what she felt as right! That is what we need to understand. Felt like giving alms, she gave it. It’s a different matter that it later ended up in a danger. We should not link that with it.”
Stopping her rapid speech, Srujana took a long breath. She was not sure if the remaining two were listening to her at all—one was deeply engrossed in picking out pellets from the rice and the other was grinding black gram for making garelu[7].
Without relevance to the previous talk, Satyavathi questioned coolly, “By the bye, what will you do for today’s lunch?”
For a minute, Srujana was angry. Despite her wonderful talk, that too uninterruptedly, without minding it… her sticking to the previous topic didn’t please her at all.
Immediately following it, she burst into laugh and taking pity on her, thought—“How could poor nayanamma understand when I deliver such a grand speech!”
“This is what is meant when they say after listening to whole of Ramayana[8], enquiring how Sita is related to Rama!... If I feel that hungry, I shall take some tiffin nayanamma!” said Srujana in a derisive tone, mingled with affection.
Soliloquizing, “How come, today everything is turning out to be reminiscences of Rama and Sita,” as Srujana was coming out …without taking note of her derisiveness, Satyavathi, in her usual style said: “That’s right, eat something, without starving yourself.”
After a minute, she continued, “It’s good to remember Ramudu, Sita! The more you talk of them on Sreerama Navami, the more punya[9]  you get!”
Of course, without listening to those words fully, Srujana walked out of the room.
After taking bath, she started for the office putting on the new dress that she had purchased recently. Putting on her chappal, she enquired, “Amma, how is the dress?”
“Very fine,” said Satyavathi and Suseela in unison.
She walked out with a smile. As the people walking on the road were turning their heads to have a glance at her dress once again, she said to herself contentedly, “I liked the color and design so much the very minute I saw it in the shop. That aside, this time tailor too stitched it well. That’s why the dress looks so beautiful!”
The whole day passed off happily in the office. Work too got finished much earlier than anticipated.
As it was nearing 2:30, taking permission, Srujana came out. Though she walked up to the bus stop in hot sun, she felt happy once she boarded the bus.
There was not much rush in the bus too. Reaching the last seat in the ladies row, she sat beside the window.
She was feeling quite playful, although feeling a little fatigue as she had not eaten anything since morning.
The very thought of having sumptuous food… lying on the bed… listening to radio…browsing through some nice book… enjoying the leisure that has come after a long wait… made Srujana’s mind float in cloud nine.
As the stop where she was to get down was approaching, Srujana sat erect in her seat getting ready to disembark.
Just at the time, Srujana noticed the boys sitting in the seat behind her standing up. The very next minute, one of the boy’s arm came fast over her shoulder and tweaking her chest rudely gone back as fast as it came.
A minute… in that one minute, Srujana could not realize what had happened. As she turned her eyes and stared, two boys got lost themselves in the crowd… got down before the bus came to a halt even.
In a daze, Srujana too got out of the bus with no effort. After getting down, she stood still for a minute. Her whole body trembled with insult and disgust.

Broad daylight… amidst so many people… on the one hand, the fact of their indecent act of violating her… on the other hand, despite their loathsome behavior… her being not able to say anything to them in return, … have all cumulatively writhed her heart. As she walked towards home habitually, her thoughts made her mind swirl in wilderness.
“How happy I was till five minutes ago! In a minute they have spoiled all that joy… but I could not teach them any lesson in return. If I come across them again, I feel like slapping on their cheek left and right.
“But why would I come across them! Even if they come across, how can I identify them! What a horror! Broad daylight! Don’t know if anybody else noticed it. Maybe not. Had they noticed, might have caught them! Who knows! Why would they! Rather would ignore instead of poking their nose into other’s affairs! Even if anyone noticed it, it is not sure they would have done anything to them, but one thing is certain, they would form a low opinion about me. Though they did wrong, I would be ridiculed.”
“How painful it is! I cannot even tell anybody this pain! To whom can I! If anybody comes to know, including even dearest friends, I will become a laughing stock for them!”
“Why friends alone! How about family members! If nayanamma hears… straightaway she will start lecturing… that’s why girls should return home before dark…”
Srujana’s eyes welled up with tears. “Why darkness! Hasn’t it happened in broad daylight! What will one say about it! If this is told, will they advice not to go out of house even during daytime!” With such thoughts and face reddened by the insult, as Srujana was entering home… Suseela came in front of her.
As she was going straight to her room, watching Srujana’s disposition, Suseela questioned her: “What amma[10]! What happened!” Hugging her mother, who followed her into room, Srujana cried at once.
For about five minutes, she could not console herself. Could not utter even a word. As tears were still streaming down… sobbing intermittently, she narrated what has happened.
Hearing the words—“That’s alright, first come and have lunch”—that came from the door, Srujana, raised her head from her mother’s lap with a shudder.
Seeing Satyavathi there, Srujana’s face turned pale.
“It’s over. What she hasn’t wished for has happened. Nayanamma heard everything. Don’t know how she would look upon her! Knowing that a boy has touched her like that, will she at all look at me as a human being!”
As Srujana was staring at her with wide eyes, Satyavathi, turning to Suseela, said: “Go, get her lunch ready.”
As Suseela left, Satyavathi, moving closer to Srujana, said: “Get up, see how your eyes have swelled up! Get up, wash face, change dress, and have your lunch.”
“Food! Food! Food! That’s all that matters to you!” shrieked Srujana. Once again she was overtaken by sorrow.
Despite such a disgrace happening for her… she has not bothered of it… not bothered to console…over it, when it struck to her mind that she is ridiculing, her sorrow doubled.
As Srujana, pressing her face to the pillow, sobed, Satyavathi, moving away from there, said: “OK… as you wish. I have made pulihora[11], garelu, bobbatlu[12],all that you cherish most.”
As though she could not put up with that, Srujana got up violently and stood. As if overtaken by hysteria, she pushed Satyavathi with force.
Satyavathi, standing there, least expecting such a move, fell across the cot. After a minute, Srujana, as the fury subsided… stared alarmingly at Satyavathi who was trying to get up and sit, rubbing her aching back.
“Sorry nayanamma!” her lips moved indistinctly.
Satyavathi didn’t hear those excuses. In her usual style saying, “Oh! Hell with you! How strongly you pushed me! What a wonder! Why so much affliction! Is it a new thing? Whenever an opportunity arises, boys do behave like that with girls. You are neither the first… nor the last. Are you to crib so much for it!” she walked away wondering at it.
Crossing the gateway, she said again, “Come, come quickly and have your food”.
For Srujana—who stood motionless in the center of the room—Satyavathi’s words echoed like Tarakamantra[13], again and again, in her ears.
“Boys are all like that … you think you are the first!” how easily she said! How casually she took the whole episode! After listening to her words, as she thought over what she had been feeling sad about for the last one hour… it became evident that there was nothing to feel sad about it. Not even worth getting angry.”
“It’s not mere chanting of ‘Sita’, ‘Rama’… that matters…one should understand their personalities”, she had mocked at nayanamma in the morning.
“But now it’s clear… it’s not she who has to understand their characters, but me. It’s not she who has to understand what courage is, who has to cultivate courage, but me.”
“See! What a courage Sita exhibited in crossing the Lakshmanarekha …” she had preached nayanamma in the morning.
Sitamma was a brave woman. No doubt about it. But that was not where her courage was proved. There was no great bravery in her crossing the Lakshmanarekha. For, she hadn’t even a faintest idea of any danger in it.
Her courage was proved in Lanka… when she stood steadfast amidst so many ogres, amidst the torture inflicted by Ravana.
Courage is not what is shown before a danger occurs. It is that which is shown at the appearance of danger … in facing the danger.

Wriggling out of the danger quickly… not to worry about it … is courage.
As she grasped the meaning of Satyavathi’s words, a smile glittered on Srujana’s lips.
Mind brimmed with joy once again. She felt as if the disgust that surrounded her body all along has evaporated… as though she was imbued with real bravery.
In one hop, she stepped into the bathroom and washing her feet and face, “Nayanamma, serve me food … I’m coming!” she cried.

[1] Amma—mother.
[2] Nayanamma—grandmother; father’s mother.
[3] Annayya—brother.
[4] Sreerama Navami—festival celebrated to proclaim the birth of Lord Sri Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
[5] Rangoli— is a traditional art of decorating courtyards and walls of Indian houses with color powders (also known as Alpana, Kolam and by other names).
[6] Lakshmanarekha—line drawn by Lakshmana around the dwelling to protect Sita, while he is away searching for Rama.
[7] Garelu—traditional snacks made with blackgram dough, fried in oil.
[8] Ramayana—one of the greatest epics of India; story of Lord Sri Rama by sage Valmiki.
[9] Punya—to be blessed.
[10] Amma—affectionate way of calling a child by elders.
[11] Pulihora—a traditional dish, made particularly during festivals, with rice and tamarind paste.
[12] Bobbatlu—a traditional sweet cake made with the dough of wheat powder, jaggery and boiled chana dal.
[13] Tarakamantra—is Rama nama, a syllable repeated in Hindu prayers, chanting of which is supposed to guide one to traverse life virtuously.


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