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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Obtained Desires ( Andina Andalu )

Original Story  in Telugu — Smt. Vijayalakshmi Ramakrishnan
Translated by  GRK Murty

Ms. Vijayalakshmi U. Ramakrishnan obtained MA in botany from Banaras Hindu University, India. She worked for a couple of years in Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore, India. Later she moved to America in 1969.

During early 60s she wrote stories and novels in Telugu. She is known as an excellent story teller. Her stories mostly dwell on family relations—she presents the dynamics of family relations and its interplay in an altogether new dimension that makes the readers wonder: How true!

Ms.Vijayalakshmi received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching from President Ronald Reagan and a Vijaya Lakshmi Day Proclamation from the former South Dakota Governor in 1986.


It’s been ten months since my classmate in Kasi, Kamala Chopra, got married. For two years, we were roommates in the University hostel. She wrote a lengthy letter inviting me to her marriage. Although felt like going, I didn’t venture out deterred by the long journey to Delhi.

It’s a wonder if a girl from a middle-class family in northern India comes for higher education. Usually, it’s the girls from rich families, being not content with the pleasures at home, who come to universities and stay in hostels to acquire M.A. degree in two or three subjects. And keep studying like that till marriage. Education is one such luxury that their wealth affords them. But unlike them, Kamala was from a very middle-class family. Luck had, however, put her on a high pedestal. After advertising his desire to marry a beautiful girl in the matrimonial columns of half-a-dozen papers, a son of a wealthy businessman finally chose Kamala and married her.

Kamala had a maternal cousin, Sarmishta. She too lived in our hostel. When we were studying M.A., she was struggling with her research for Ph.D. in Politics. Kamala had, of course, no liking for her. Whenever we all started out for a movie from the hostel, Sarmishta used to call Kamala to her room saying, “Look Kamala, that sari has lost its hue … all the saris in my box are neatly washed … come on, pick and wear any one of them.” Kamala, with a blushed face, used to reply, “Oh no, if I put on a silk sari, others would anyway come to know that I have put on someone else’s sari.” Sarmishta, of course, used to put up with it with a pitied … distressed face. I could not understand why Kamala, who could wear my saris just by picking them up from my box without even asking me, felt so bad about what her own maternal cousin said. One evening, walking into the room irritably, Kamala threw all singada[1] that she had brought bundled up in her kerchief onto my lap. “What’s the matter?” I asked. Returning from college, bargaining with Singh, it seems she had picked up an anna’s[2] worth of singadas and got them bundled up in her kerchief. Coming by the same road, Sarmishta saw this, and appeared to have said, “Must you stand there for a quarter-of-an-hour and bargain with that vendor on the road by which other students walk along, all to pick singadas?” Walking in, distressed at it, she said, “After all can I, like her, afford apples?” Saying, “Come on Kamala, it’s OK! Whether she eats apples or apricots, can she ever have the brightness of your cheeks?”  I tried to console her.

It’s not lack of money alone that distances a person from other persons. Kamala had a beautiful face that was prettier than a full-blown rose; her singing in her mellifluous voice could transport people to a distant world, which everyone praised; yet, she could not stand well-dressed people; cannot but throw comments at girls going out for movies twice a week with money stashed in their vanity bags. Obviously, she could not be friendly with anyone in the hostel! Having shared every thought of hers with me, and been a roommate for two years, she could strike a chord with me. Hearing about Kamala’s, who used to look at things dearer longingly, who in her 25 years of age never wore a silk sari, becoming the daughter-in-law (lady) of a wealthy family and leading a happy married life, I felt quite happy.

Last month I had been to Delhi to attend an interview. Having gone that far, I thought of going to the nearby Ambala and visit Kamala. After finishing the interview, starting that very afternoon by Amritsar mail, I reached Ambala by evening.

Looking at Kamala’s house, I felt:  “How fully civilization blooms when aesthetic sense is not missing, and when lack of wealth does not raise its ugly head?” As we were chatting, an amber-hued puppy came and sidled up Kamala’s legs. A bright red velvet belt shone around her neck. Kamala took her at once onto her lap, kissing her and feeding her a few biscuits, she let her go. “Looks pretty, what’s her name”, asked I. “Ruby, my hubby got it exclusively for me. He hasn’t any liking for other than Alsatians and Terriers,” said Kamala. Just then, the maidservant, perhaps, came enquiring—half in Hindi and half in Punjabi, “Amma[3], shall I iron the saris on the stand?” “Ha, carry them all and press carefully,” said Kamala. The six-year-old daughter of the maidservant came in, perhaps in search of her mother. She was wearing a red frock. Copper-hued hair tied in a red ribbon; red cheeks. “Kamala, call that kid,” said I excitedly. As she came nearer, I started a dialogue with her.  “Oh! Stop your Hindi. She can’t understand anything other than Punjabi,” said Kamala. Staring at her, Kamala asked, “What’s it in your hand?” She opened her fist. Singadas!Chi! Don’t eat singadas, you will get sick. Throw them out. Take this orange and eat,” said Kamala, seeing her off passing on an orange. I wondered: “Is it the same Kamala—who once paying an anna bought singadas, bundling them up in her kerchief—who said this?”

It wasn’t yet eight that night. As I was browsing through a magazine, Kamala came and said: “My husband came for dinner. You say you want to leave tomorrow. Wonder, if it could happen later or not; let me introduce him right now, come on.” “It’s only eight, dinner … so early … how about you, won’t you both dine together?” asked I. “No, he finishes off quickly, in five minutes. I can’t, that hurriedly. I will have leisurely, at my own convenience. Don’t drag on … be quick, otherwise, he may be out.” I could not understand why that anxiety. Both of us went in. Her husband was eating. Kamala introduced me to him. He stared at me, greeted with a namaskar[4], and hurried back to his food. What a man! I was shocked! Holding half-a-dozen  rotis[5] in left hand, he tweaked out a bite from them with his right hand, and dipping it in the curry, ate it. I saw ruggedness in his physique and behavior. Even for courtesy sake, he didn’t say a few words to me! Kamala could, however, say quite a lot to him in Punjabi. He replied in bits and bites. As the beautiful Kamala was talking all dotingly with that ruffian, I felt sick. I soliloquized: “No woman, however deprived she might be, would ever feel jealous of your luck.”

That night, though I had been talking to Kamala, I felt benumbed. In the course of conversation, I enquired about Sarmishta. “Sarmishta? She is fine. They are staying in Karnal. Her husband works there. She has a son,” said Kamala. “Oh! I didn’t know that Sarmishta got married. By the way, who is he?” said I. “Who else? The same fellow, who used to come to hostel every Saturday for Sarmishta’s sake, don’t you remember one engineering student, that same fellow!” said Kamala. “Really!” said I. “Yes, Karnal is on the way to Delhi. While returning, get down there. When I met her sometime back, I told that you are likely to visit me. She asked me to tell you to visit her without fail. It’s, after all, on the way, why don’t you get down there?” said Kamala. “Yaha!” said I unmindfully. Couldn’t get sleep for long! “Won’t you please sing a song?” said I. As usual, Kamala, putting her palm to cheek, with closed eyes, sang, “Abtho ithana kahadoe pyaree / Maihoo tumharee, maihoo tumharee …”[6] Even symbolically, there wasn’t an iota of love, or warmth in her life. Yet, how sweetly and flawlessly she sang that love-laden romantic song?

Some indefinable fascination within me! Though not that close to Sarmishta, I strongly felt like visiting her, getting down on my way back. Started off by boarding a bus in Ambala. Those Sikh drivers would cover a mile a minute! Within an hour and a quarter, I reached Karnal. Went to Sarmishta’s home. It’s not a house! A dilapidated castle-like building? There were about 60-70 families residing in it. Looking at it, I was reminded of the towers built around Sri Rama temple—as though to resolve the issue of housing the pigeons—in our town. Seeing me, Sarmishta felt happy. Indeed, she was more than surprised. “I will tell you a truth, can you swallow it?” said Sarmishta. “What is it, tell me,” said I. “I met Kamala only once. We hadn’t talked anything about you then. She sent you here on her own. To make her luck appear great to you, Kamala might have thought of showing mine as a contrast,” said Sarmishta. I was stunned. Listening to Sarmishta’s story, I was rocked. Her father didn’t like the man whom she chose. Her father seemed to have said, “Look you want to marry a man with not even a paisa, but be careful, I will not give you even a paisa.” She walked out of the house just with her clothes on. That’s it. There was no communication between them thereafter, not even a single letter. Her husband, it seems, gets around 300 rupees per month. If they were to live within that sum, they couldn’t afford a better house. She thought of looking for a job for herself. But well before that, her son was born. So, for a year or more, she appeared to have deferred it. “Even otherwise, what’s so painful in it, except to pity myself thinking I am leading a middle-class life…,” added Sarmishta.

Their dwelling portion has three rooms—images hanging on the wall were all drawn by her husband. In the university, we all knew him as a cartoonist. The landscape paintings in the rooms were very beautiful. Her husband was handsome. In those days, girls in the hostel, of course, in their open code terminology, used to talk of him as Dilip or Pradeep!                    

“Sarmishta, I am pretty happy about your bravery. I would love to compliment you profusely. But don’t mind if I ask you… Having used to such a comfortable life, how come, you dare do this?” When I asked thus, Sarmishta proudly and passionately replied: “All for love, of course!” Hearing that, I felt as though a fictional character was standing before me with full of life. I felt I might get overwhelmed by it. But no, my luck was not that great. For, Sarmishta continued: “For 25 years I grew up as a child of wealthy parents. I never had the illusion that contentment and money are anyway linked to each other. It’s not money that I lacked, but other things. I searched for them intently. And that’s what I got in my hubby!” The haze before my eyes got cleared. Sarmishta, Kamala, Kamala’s husband—I understood all of them now. Life’s goal is not merely living happily; but it’s in acquiring those pleasures one misses that the beauty of living lies.        

[1] Roti—Food item made out of wheat flour.
[2] Abtho ithana kahadoe pyaree / Maihoo tumharee, maihoo tumharee …—At least now tell this much O my sweetheart / I am yours, I am yours…

[3] Amma—Respectful way of addressing the lady of the house by servants.
[4] NamaskarGreeting each other.

[5] Singada—Water Chestnut.
[6] Anna—One-sixteenth of a rupee.


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