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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Eclipse (Grahanam)

Original Story in Telugu  :      Hitashri
Translator :    GRK Murty


Hitasri (1926-1999)
By profession, Hitasri—Sri MVN Prasad Rao—was a lecturer in commerce and retired as Principal of VSR & NVR College, Tenali. By passion, he was a writer—he has written short stories, novels, dramas, plays for radio, etc. An amalgamation of prasna and vijnana, he was a storyteller of eminence. It is his short stories—in which his heart and mind met at a central point—that stir the hearts and minds of readers. His story, Sthree was shortlisted in the world short stories competition. He has published four volumes of his collection of short stories: Kathasagaram, Jareeanchu, Gulabeepuvuu - Cigarettu, Hitasri Kadha Manjushika, and Hitasri Kathalu. Hitasri Kadha Manjushika won an award from Telugu University.

*   *   *  *  *  *  *

I cannot simply forget, in this life, an incident that took place last year in hotel Dreamland. I cannot say how that event might have impacted my life, but since I had a part in it, I, by virtue of it, could  feel the kind of ‘aesthetic experience’ that one goes through whenever life’s real experience splashes in one’s memory, and that realization makes my heart greatly sentimental. And hence, the narration.

I was staying at room No. 1 of that hotel. It had lodging in the upper floor, while the restaurant was in the ground floor. There were around 20 rooms in two rows facing each other. The corridor was not that wide. There was, however, a veranda near the staircase. Standing at the railing of the veranda, one could see the ground up to the main road.

Room No. 11 was just opposite my room. Early in the morning, as I was walking with a toothbrush in hand towards the common bathroom, a lady was climbing the stairs. Even a cursory glance at her would compel one to take another look at her attractive figure. But the glow in her appeared diminished. Out of curiosity, I looked at the corridor for ascertaining which room she was going to stay in. The boy led her to room No. 11, which was opposite room No. 1. There was a small leather suitcase in her hand. She was dressed in a costly sari and blouse. The purpose of her visit to Hyderabad though sprang as a question in my mind, but without dwelling on it much, I moved forward. On my way back, hearing, “Hey! Sir”, I turned my head back. It was the man from room No. 14 who called. He was familiar to me—Seethaiah, the contractor, from my town.

“Came to Hyderabad on a mission?”

I responded: “You’re right. How are you?”

“By your grace, fine!  Came on what work?”

“Nothing special, as usual … been transferred from Anantapur to Srikakulam. Came to try stalling it.”

“Is it? Know anyone?”

I nodded my head.

“Otherwise come with me. What I say will be the rule in the secretariat—right from Secretary to the UDC cannot defy me. You know that,” said that contractor, puffing up his chest. Although I felt happy of his helping nature, I didn’t like the way he uttered it. Instead of succeeding in executing it through him, its failure, I felt, would be much better.   

“Thanks! I don’t need it. I have the hope that the work will be done”, saying so, I walked to my room. Taken aback, perhaps, he stayed back silently.

As I was changing the dress in my room, I heard a conversation.

“Hey boy! Couldn’t you listen to the lady who has been calling you for the last half an hour? Sleeping or what?” said the contractor in a furious tone.

“Coming sir”.

Observed through the window. The boy ran to room No. 11. She was standing at the entrance. Standing a little away, the contractor was exhibiting his superior prowess.

“What do you need, madam?” asked the boy.


“These workers are too lazy. God only knows … what could be got done by these boys … By the bye, wherefrom are you, madam?”

Taking liberties, the contractor started his gossip with her. She replied something. I could not hear it.

“What brought you here?”

She said something.

“Oh I see! Scribble your name, the job and the department which it belongs to on a piece of paper and give it to me. It will be done in no time. These days nothing can be got done without influence! I know that Secretary. A kind of helping each other… Interview is after all a mere pretext … Come with me, we shall talk to the secretary. It’s OK if known people are around…”

He continued to talk as though he stayed in the hotel to help others. I wondered at the haste with which he leaps into others’ affairs. A suspicion too struck my mind immediately. Although he is a little aged man, it’s everybody’s knowledge that he has no qualms. Wonder if he is, noticing her to be alone, trying to trap her! Yet another doubt struck me. Earlier, when he was talking to me exhibiting his so-called status, she was standing at the door. All that gloating, was it meant for her to hear! It would anyway be good … Let me caution her. But how she would perceive this unwarranted intervention of mine!

Combing hair, I came out. They were still standing there.

“Hey! Will you join me for a cup of coffee”, said I to Sitayya.

Hesitating for a while, saying “Let’s go”, he, turning to her and saying “See you again”, moved forward.

“Who’s she?” said I.

“Don’t know, seems to have applied for a job. Chiseled face, what else can anyone do but give her employment!” he said laughingly.

“You seem to have promised to help!”

“So what? Want me to give that opportunity to you?”

His disposition caused me nausea. Involuntarily my face turned sulky. Noticing it, he said, “Said it casually. Why do you take it so seriously?” I remained silent. We finished our coffee. He left for downtown on his work. I started back to my room. I stopped for a while before her room. Because contractor Seethaiah’s disposition appeared otherwise, I strongly felt like telling her the same. But I didn’t have the courage to call her. For anyway there is still time, I slowly walked into my room and sat browsing through the newspaper.

After a little while, hearing “Sir”, I raised my head. The hotel boy stood at the door.

“That madam is calling you sir”, said the boy, pointing his finger towards that room.

I was a little surprised. Feeling that she might have called me to seek help, I immediately went to her. She was right at the door. Seeing me, she greeted with namaskar. Perhaps out of shyness, she stood behind the door… partly hiding herself behind the curtain. For once I stared at her eyes. In her wide eyes, though the black pupils appeared so beautiful and attractive, the glitter that should have been, I felt, was missing a little.

“Yes madam, what do you want?” said I.

After a while, she said beseechingly, “I received an interview call for a temporary post of steno-typist in the secretariat. They asked for a testimonial. Having come hurriedly, I have forgotten to bring one.”

She remained silent. Perhaps she meant that I should give her a testimonial.  

“Would it serve the purpose if I give?” said I.

“Oh sure! My name is Malathi. This is the interviewer call letter. If you kindly give the testimonial, I shall be grateful.”

“That’s OK, I shall. You think you will get the job?”

“A while ago, one Mr. Seethaiah said he would recommend for it.”

I was happy to have got the context.

“Don’t depend on others. That too, do not rely on those whom you do not know”.

“He said he knows you. Didn’t you speak to him a little while ago?”

Got tangled up.

“To know someone is not a big deal. Anyway, I might not be the right man to advise you. I do know an Assistant Secretary. I shall post him with your details. Something good might happen.”


“No mention. You are new to the city. Be a little more careful. Bye!”   

Beyond this I could not forewarn her. Returning to the room, I wrote the testimonial and sent it to her through the boy.

It was half past ten. Started for having lunch. With a carrier in hand, the boy came across. It was perhaps for her. I took a step towards her room to enquire if she needed anything. Feeling that she might misconstrue my entrance, I gave up the idea. The boy kept the carrier in her room. As he was returning, I saw a five-rupee note in his hand.

Involuntarily I said, “Need change?”

Nodding his head, he said, “That madam needs it sir”. I took the note mechanically. It was a bit soiled. Putting four one-rupee notes and coins for one rupee in his hand, I said, “Boy! This note is worn-out. Don’t know whether it is currently in use or not. Get her signature on it; if not negotiable, can be returned.”

Within minutes the boy returned. Taking the note from him I looked at it. She had signed on it. Immediately I went to her.

“Madam, innocently if you sign like this you will be in soup”, said I with a smile.     

She was taken aback.

“In today’s world, so many misdeeds are being done. You must be a little more careful. For, you are alone, I am telling. There is an infinite scope for misusing this signature.”

She didn’t appear to have understood all this.

Smiling, she said, “Henceforth I will not sign like that.”

“At what time are you to go to the office?”


“If it is required, I shall accompany.”

“It’s OK. You need not take that trouble”, said she.

“No trouble. I too need to go to the office.”

“I can go”, replied she.

Realizing that I should no more press it, saying, “OK”, went out for meals. I kept the five-rupee note that she had given me with her signature in my pocket carefully. Somehow, a kind of affection developed in me towards her. I then thought of not spending that five-rupee note. It is still with me safely.

While returning after having meals, I looked at Seethaiah’s room. Caught by the sounds emanating out of her room, I stayed there for a while and then straight going to my room, sat on a chair. Deciding to leave for the office only after 12:00, I was whiling away the time glancing at the road through the window. Quarter of an hour might have passed. A car came and stopped in front of the hotel. Seethaiah came out of it. After a while, I heard the sound of footsteps from the corridor.

“Malathi garu”.

Heard him calling.

“Come on. I’ve brought a car. It is getting time for you.”

“Car!” asked she surprisingly.

“Yes. In Hyderabad, nothing moves for me without a car. I will drop you at the office. I have already briefed the Secretary. He said he would look into it. Be quick”.  

As he was talking that fast without any interruption and giving no time to her to think over, I too felt surprised at his initiative and daring. Thereafter, her usual hesitation and his pressing her further, all happened matter-of-factly.

As I was looking at the car, both slipped into it and the car drove off in no time. I was a bit disturbed. What can that poor lady do! It’s evident that it’s no easy task to get rid of people like Seethaiah.

At 12:30, I also started for the secretariat. I told my friend, an Assistant Secretary, about her job. He gave his word to certainly help her. It all didn’t take more than an hour. After finishing the work, straight I went to the hotel. No sooner did I lie on the bed than sleep overtook me. By the time I got up, it was 3:00. Called the boy, to order some coffee. Again changing my mind, put on the shirt, for I love drinking coffee sitting amidst people. While going down, I looked at her room. It was still locked. Perhaps, interview was not over. They call people to come at 11:00 a.m., but will not call them in for the interview till 3:00 p.m.—it’s pretty normal.

As I was drinking coffee, a car stopped in front of the hotel. Two people came out and were going towards the staircase. One was Seethaiah; the other one was lean and tall. Fair complexion, officer’s hat, costly clothes—his style of walking suggested that he might be holding a good job. What about Malathi? Leaving her in the secretariat, Seethaiah might be roaming on his own work. Otherwise she might have told that she would come later. What might have happened to her job? I told my friend about her requirement. He promised me to work on it. Even if she got the job because of my recommendation, she might think that Seethaiah had arranged for it.

As the mind was busy with its own thinking, finishing coffee, I went upstairs. As I was walking in front of Seethaiah’s room, I heard the conversation. Casually looked into the room. Seethaiah was standing. Sitting on a chair, the other man was puffing a cigarette, pretty casually.

“Had I known that you were coming, I would have sent the car”, said Seethaiah.

“Neither did I foresee it”, said he.

I didn’t hear what they spoke thereafter. Straight came to my room. Didn’t know how long I spent on those newspapers that I had brought from the market, but hearing the sound of a car racing past from the hotel, I looked at the frontage of the hotel. Seethaiah and that man were going in the car. He, who evinced so much interest in my visit to the city, despite seeing me, didn’t bother to enquire about the outcome of my visit to the secretariat. Of course, I didn’t expect him to enquire either.

Evening at around 4 o’ clock, she came back. I sat there looking at that door through window. Thought of enquiring about the outcome. But fearing that if it was not favorable, my asking might irritate her, I gave up the idea. Sat there flipping through a novel. It turned out to be a boring exercise. It was around 5 o’clock, splashing water on the face and changing the dress I came out of the room. Her room doors were partially kept open. Sitting on a chair, she was thinking. Her face indicated that she was pretty tired.

“Yes mam, how about the interview?”

In a shudder, perhaps, she stood up at once.

“It might click … thanks!” said she.

Saying “Very good”, I went out. Felt a bit relieved. Poor lady—might have applied for the job out of grave necessity! However, her clothes appeared to be costly.  But then, it was not possible to assess the necessity for a job merely based on clothes. If the job clicks, her problems might be solved.

Spending the evening here and there, I finally settled in a cinema theater. By the time I came back to the hotel, had dinner and went upstairs, it was 10 o’ clock. Seethaiah’s room was locked. He might not have returned yet. Well, it was not that he had only one place to go! After all, he had to circle around the offices, clubs and officers’ residences. Over it, he appeared to have got a guest too. The bed light in room No. 11 was glowing. Peeked through the window. She was sitting on a chair. Perhaps her problems were not letting her sleep.

Not knowing what to do, came out to the railing and stared at the sky. Someone appeared to have occupied the moon—Oh! Today is lunar eclipse … Varied thoughts …

Came into the room. No indication of getting sleep. Sat turning the leaves of the books. It was 11 o’ clock. Switching off the light, I reclined on the bed. Would mosquitoes let me sleep! The fan kept turning in its own way. In a new place, I do not get sleep immediately. Orders might come tomorrow. If they come, I can as well head for home after collecting it. So many thoughts were swarming the mind.  

Suddenly an interruption broke it. Somebody was knocking the door. Who would call me at this late hour! Listened keenly. No, it was not my room. It was room No. 11 . As I realized it, suddenly got up and sat.   

The knocking now became clearer.

“Who is it?” heard her voice.

Inquisitively, peeped out through the window. No lights in the corridor. There were two people in front of her door.

“Please open the door once”. It was the voice of Seethaiah. What rascality!

She didn’t reply.

“It’s me, Seethaiah. Please open the door. I have something important to tell you.”

The door opened. I could see through the window clearly… one person quickly moved away from there. Thereafter heard a few words, though indistinctly.

“Enjoy… Darling… Ha… Ha… Come… Come…” Might be some drunkard.

A minute’s silence. Immediately a shriek pierced through the silence. Though it was a wailing for help, it sounded to me more like what is produced when the bow is drawn fast over the violin strings, I jumped out of bed and in one leap I landed at her doorstep. No sooner did I land than I caught hold of his neck with one hand and with the other squeezed his shoulders.

“Rascal! Who are you? How dare you!”

In the heat of the moment, I slapped him left and right. Not being able to withstand it, he fell down. Meanwhile she switched on the light. Pulling him up straight and pushing him, I said “Get out”. She was shivering. He was muttering something.

“You scoundrel, mumbling! Prostrate at her feet”.

Caught hold of his shirt collar. Looking at his face I was stunned. It was the same fellow who had come in the evening along with Seethaiah. No doubt. Felt it would be no sin if Seethaiah was shredded to pieces for what he had done. Holding his collar I threw him down at her feet.

She at once screamed.

Thinking that the poor lady was scared, I dragged him to Seethaiah’s room and pushed him inside. Seethaiah was not in the room. Already ran away. I latched the door from outside. Everyone appeared to be in sound sleep. No lodger came out. When I went to her room, she was sobbing.

“Bloody drunkard! Tomorrow I shall hand him over to the police. It will serve him right.”

Raising her head, she looked at me meekly. She wiped her tears.

“It’s lucky. I didn’t get sleep. You are terribly shaken. Of course, however great one may be, when such unforeseen incidents pop up suddenly in life, one gets shattered…”          

“This is not the first time.”

Her voice sounded like the tweaked string of a veena. 

I was a little shocked.

“Not the first time?”

“No. Exactly two years back—on a similar night—it happened like this.”

“The same man?” I asked in surprise.

“No, no. I could never forget that night. Nor this night. Like now, then too, I had come for an interview. Lodged in a hotel.”

“It’s no good to come alone like this.”

“What can I do?”

“Don’t you have anybody?”

“I do have.”

“Are you married?”

She, looking at me once, nodding her head, stared at the ring on her finger.

“Then, how about your husband?”

“He didn’t like my going for a job.”

“Why, then, this coming?” 

“There is a reason. When I first came, I was unmarried. I had just passed school final exams, learnt typewriting and shorthand. Out of necessity, I decided to go for a job. But after marriage, there was no such necessity. My husband is a wealthy man. In these two years, lot many changes have crept in.”

“You mean, lost the property in court cases?” 

“There would have been no trouble if we had only lost the property. He is an engineer. We had differences of opinion. Decided to live independently.” 

“You are, perhaps, hasty.”

Suddenly tears flooded her cheeks.
“Not that I haven’t felt similarly too.  But … but … I think I was in no haste.”

Keeping her head on the table with blank looks, she stared at the ring on her finger.

“I am not aware of your personal affairs. Yet, I advise you to go home.”

She was silent. I warned her again.

In an emotionally charged tone, she said: “No, no. I’ve lost everything. There is nothing else that I could long for.”

“Don’t brood over it anymore. Go to sleep … it’s already too late.”

She was once again overwhelmed with grief. There being nothing more that I could do, I returned to my room.

Tried to sleep. No, I couldn’t. I thought that man had a social status. But turned out to be a rascal. I got very angry with him. What differences would have crept between her and her husband? Was it such a powerful cause that could make her so desperate? As it wasn’t an easy thing to draw a conclusion, it simply irritated me.

Then I straight went to Seethaiah’s room. The door remained bolted. Opened the door. Seeing the man lying flat on the bed, and being reminded of what had happened, I flamed in anger.

Angrily asked him: “Hey, came to senses?”

He suddenly got up and sat.

“Appear to be from a family of good social standing. Appear to be educated too. Don’t you feel ashamed of getting stoned up with drink and knocking the doors? Chi!” said I furiously.

He hung his head in shame. Might be recalling the whole episode event by event.

“Forgive me. It’s my misfortune that I came across that Seethaiah here too. As people say, ‘if our gold is OK!’ [What can the goldsmith do] … what am I to do, when he fans the temptation, my mind somersaults. 

Feeling that he is reciting morals, I became quite furious.

“Stop it! Instead of feeling ashamed of what you‘ve done, you have the cheek to put forward defensive arguments. Had you been sent to the police station, you would have by now committed suicide, provided, of course, you had a conscience?”

His face flushed.

With a dejected look, he stammered, “I’m not attempting to defend myself”.
“If you are truly a gentleman, get up, go and seek her pardon by touching her feet. And telling her your name and address; of course, if you have one, get yourself exonerated.”

Staring elsewhere, he heaved a sigh.

“All those words, I did say once. Yes, at one time I was also a hero— exactly two years back— one night – in a hotel – that incident was the curtain-raiser for a sweet dream. That dream turned into reality. But to my misfortune, thereafter I turned her life into a dream. Now, I have ruined even that dream. Shattered that into pieces. Sir! I cannot see my Malathi’s face anymore —”

Couldn’t understand what I was listening to! By the time I recouped myself, he was walking down the steps fast. Hurriedly I came to the steps. He had boarded a taxi. It drove fast. Returning to the room involuntarily I looked at the sky. The moon began to emerge from the eclipse.            

First published in Yuva - Deepavali, 1963


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