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Friday, September 28, 2012

Karma of One’s Own

(Chesukunna Karma)

Original in Telugu – Dr. GV Krishnarao
Translated by – GRK Murty

It is a story of three characters: a farmer, his wife, and his farm-worker, Raghavulu, and their struggle for existence. All the three are having a strong character of their own. They are people with good intent. They work diligently. But their Karma is bad. Yet, none of them ever gives-up the basic human spirit—the spirit of fighting against the odds of life.The farmer endeavors to wriggle out of his pressing debts first by conceding the fate of relieving his farm-worker, followed by selling his farm and bullocks, as well. In all this, the lady of the house, reconciling herself with her karma, lends emotional support by not creating ruckus. This makes the farm-worker ponder over his sweating it out for that family all these years, that too,  for no avail. Finally, realizing what he needs and, true to the spirit of his belief, he walks out of the farmer’s house to an unknown destination— perhaps in search of a farm and cattle—to live on. 

Each of them though blames his/her karma, but never gives up the karma—of doing what they are supposed to do with unswerving devotion. And all this is narrated in a language of rasardrata heart-rending—sans rhetoric
*    *     *     *     *    *  

Eme! Ninne!1 Looks someone has come into the courtyard. Go and see.”

“Who would come now? It could be Raghavulu with the hay bundle,” says she, while hurriedly breaking cow dung cakes to place them on the fire before the straw in the hearth burns out.

Ha! You and your intelligence! If it were Raghavulu, why does the milch cow moo so restlessly? Go and see,” shouted the husband, a little harshly.

The jug filled with milk is right there. If I go out into the yard, she wonders, the cat may turn down the jug. Lakshuvamma then asks her son who is hanging around holding her sari entreating her to serve food, “Arey! Chittoda!2 Go and see who has come into the yard.”

Of late, Chittodu has become obstinate. Venkayya, on tying the dhoti3 around his waist, looks at his wife. Setting the hearth on fire, she is transferring milk from the jug to an earthen pot. What can he say to a woman who is fully occupied? Wearily, he himself walks towards the courtyard.

The eastern sun is fast rising. Putting his hand against the rising sun, he shouts, “Who is it?”

“It is me, Sir.”

Peering at the man walking towards him with a huge turban around his head, Venkayya says, “Oh! You, Pullai, when did you come?”

Seeing Venkayya, Pullayya removes his turban and keeping it on his shoulder replies: “Just now.”

“Are the children and everything fine?”

“With your grace, so, so.”

“Had you needed our grace, would you stay this long without turning up this side? If not for our sake, at least, for your son’s sake, whom you have left with us? Have you seen your son, at least once in the last two years? Tottukodaka!4 Giving birth to children and leaving them to their fate! Animals are giving birth and so are you!” Although Venkayya is scolding him, Pullayya is enjoying it, for he could sense a kind of warmth in it.

“What can I do, Dora?5 Umpteen times I tried to come here, but couldn’t. Once, it was my wife who fell sick. Then it was the turn of my younger kid. Later, it became my turn to fall sick. What can I do? Thereafter, it was the farm work that held me back this long.”

“Say all this elsewhere, not to me. If only you had the desire to see your son, wouldn’t you get time for two long years?”

True. If Pullayya really had that urge to visit his son, he would have certainly made it one day or the other. To tell the truth, he was not much attached to his elder son, Raghavulu. There is a reason for it. Hardly at the age of five, he left Raghavulu in the house of Venkayya. What else can poor villagers do? Indeed, for the last ten years, Venkayya himself has been taking care of Raghavulu’s welfare. He is the teacher and Asaami6 for Raghavulu—he has been getting every farm operation done by him after training him well. Whatever has been the treatment meted out to him by the Lady of the house, for the last thirteen years Raghavulu has been refusing to leave them. Even when Pullayya left the village for a far off place, Raghavulu refused to leave Venkayya’s house. That made Venkayya too develop a kind of fondness for Raghavulu. Of course, Pullayya used to come every year around bavoi punnami7 to collect the annual wages.

Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that Raghavulu had no affection for his parents! But Lakshuvamma, being a mother, used to force Raghavulu to go and visit his parents, at least, once a year.

Eemei8, Raghavulu’s father has come. Give him a jug, he will wash his face,” shouts Venkayya to his wife.

Dora, you have become so lean? Fell ill, or what?” asks Pullayya.

Sitting on the deck, Venkayya replies, “No, but as we advance in age, aren’t the years added? Or do they get deleted?”

Keeping a jug before him, Lakshuvamma asks: “So, you felt like coming after this long? Anyway, the chantadu9 is near the well. Go fetch water.”

People with no association with farmers’ families and their way of living may feel disturbed by Lakshuvamma giving him an empty jug. But Pullayya feels quite happy about it, for he feels that the Lady has thus treated him as an inmate of her house.

Lakshuvamma questions him: “Did you see your son?”

“Yes amma, I did. On my way here, I went to the haystacks yard. He was there pulling hay from the stack.”

“So, on the way itself you have coolly made the purpose of your visit clear to him,” says Asaami (Venkayya).

Taking the side of Pullayya, Lakshuvamma says, “Oh! Come on, after all, they are meeting after so many days. Shouldn’t they talk?”
“Oh! you and your stupid fondness for them! Do you know why Pullai came? It’s neither to see you, nor his son.”

“Then, for what?”

With a smile, Pullayya takes the side of the Lady saying, “Yes, so must you ask Dorasanigaru10.”

“Don’t be a smart rascal. If it was to see your son, you should have come as usual four days after the full moon.”

“He might have found time only now,” says Lakshuvamma.

 “You duffer, you, too, have free time now, haven’t you? So only, you are dubbed as the inheritor of craziness for people. Not for anything?” taunts Venkayya.

“Each of us has our own intelligence. Go Pullayya, go and wash your legs,” so saying she goes inside.

There is then a sudden stirring and a fluttering in the cattle shed. The cows in the yard start mooing. The black young bull, hitting the land hard with its foreleg, moos ferociously. Listening to the sound coming from the backyard, the aged bullock too suddenly wakes up and stares at the backyard door. Hopping and jumping, the young he-calf runs to the first hay bundle that comes into the yard and smelling it, jumps to the second bundle, carried in by Raghavulu.

Rinsing his mouth, Pullayya watches how his son is loved by everyone—right from the young he-calf to Asaami, everyone is fond of his son. He wonders if Asaami can afford to lose such a worker.

“Hey! Be off, pulling the dhoti?” shouts Raghavulu at the he-calf, which circling him does not allow him to move forward. Venkayya shouts, “Orey Chittoda! Your bujjai11 is running away.” Leaving his mother, Chittodu at once runs to the backyard.

“Where is my bujjai?”

“There, behind Raghavulu. Pull it away and tie it to the peg.”

Chittodu, holding the belt around the neck of the he-calf, pulls it. Yet, it does not move away from munching Raghavulu’s dhoti. Raghavulu yells at it. When Chittodu pulls it forcibly for the second time, the he-calf could not but leave Raghavulu’s dhoti.

Placing the hay bundles under the eaves of the cattle shed, Chinnadora12 and Raghavulu pull them inside. Asking his young master to keep the leguminous straw bundles on the loft, Raghavulu comes to Venkayya.

“Despite going that early, is this the time to return?” shouted the landlord.

“What else can I do when not a single blade of straw is coming out? When I said I would break down the top of the haystack, you said no.”

“It is true nanna13, we could not pull out even a single blade of straw. Hey Raghavoi, shall we break the top tomorrow,” asked Chinnadora.

“Not tomorrow, seasonal activities are on. Let these few days go,” said Raghavulu.

Venkayya feels sorry for his son for not having even this little sense of priorities.

 “Arey Raghavoi, your father has come,” says Lakshuvamma, entering the yard.

“Let him come. Serve me food. I have to go quickly for ploughing the field. The ploughs of the other villagers are already in the fields,” says Raghavulu.

“He has come after two years, how you could say that?” says Chinnadora.

“Let it be. He has come, so he will see me. Having seen, he will coolly go back. You untie the cattle quickly,” warning thus, he sees off Chinnadora.

Arey abbai!14 Listen to me,” calls Pullayya. But Raghavulu goes into the house without responding.

Orey ninnera!15 Your father is calling,” shouts Venkayya, after him.

Karma: What it Means for Hindus
Karma has different connotations. But it essentially denotes ‘action’. It is the path of work. According to sage Vashishta, mind and action put together becomes karma. And these two go together as fire and heat—the one cannot exist without the other.

Mind is the most powerful of all our senses. Mind is the medium of knowledge—its unfathomable range and depth as well. Mind is the source of our actions. It is the cause   of bondage as also the key to liberation. Our battles of life are primarily fought and won in our minds. Great thoughts precede great actions.

Karma or action is universal. It manifests itself as different actions in different men. It is said that the variety of the world is born of karma— ‘karmajam loka-vaicitryam’. 

According to the law of karma, there is a law in the mental and moral world just as there is one for the physical world. The world is said to be an ordered cosmos. What we sow we will reap. The law of karma governs the growth of the human being. Our acts determine our character and character in turn defines our actions. Karma thus reflects in man’s nature, in his temperament, sensitivity, self-control, balance and equanimity and in the way one reacts to a given situation.

The law of Karma emphasizes the importance of conduct, for piling of the past goes on without interruption. Each thought, each action of an individual has definitive consequences – “What a man wills he does; what he does even so he becomes.” Thus, our character, our personality, our makeup, our sensitivity to right and wrong, joys and sufferings are the result of our past.

How one faces and braves life, how well or ill one lives from day to day is due to one’s makeup as shaped in the past.  Therefore, every moment a man’s character and his destiny are being created by himself. This past follows a man as karma.

Intriguingly, Hindus believe that every choice that men make will exercise its moral influence not only in this life but for ever. They believe that law of karma is not a mere rule but the very organic nature of life where each successive phase grows inevitably from what has happened before. The law thus highlights the significance of every decision that a man makes for the right or the wrong. What follows us as the inevitable and destined consequences of our past is termed as Prarabdh.         

Now the obvious question is: Are rewards and punishments in life predetermined/arbitrarily decided by God?  Sears say it is not so, for although we carry the whole past with us, we do enjoy what is called ‘free-will’. Freedom denotes human plasticity—the scope for development of a variety of possibilities—as against the karma, the limiting force of our equipment and environment.  If the present state of a man is the product of a long past, it is argued that the same man can as well change what he has made.   True, his past and his present environment may create obstacles but they will all give way in the end to the will of a man, just in proportion to the amount of sincerity and insistence with which he/she pursues a cause.

Hindus, it is said, believe that the roots of our existence lie in the transcendent sphere. According to them, there lies in human beings the ‘Eternal different’ from the limited chain of causes and effects in the phenomenal world. And when man realizes that he is one with this power of Self-existence which manifests the universe, he ceases to be bound by karma. Mind, life and body then become his apparatus to surpass the karma. So, according to law of karma, life is a constant self-creation, unless one lives in inertia. 

Indeed, Gita teaches us to transcend the rule of karma—the natural order of deed and consequence. It says that the “chain of karma can be broken here and now, within the flux of the empirical world.” We, Radhakrishnan says, can become masters of karma by developing detachment. What he means here is: action to be undertaken for self-fulfillment. Once our svadharma—out-world life—answers svabhava—inner being—our action will become free, easy and spontaneous. Then work simply becomes worship—a consecration at the altar of the divine. 

It is these concepts that this story teller, Dr. GV Krishnarao—a philosopher more by nature than by training both in eastern and western philosophies by virtue of his extensive reading—expounds through Venkayya and Raghavulu, who undergoing an intensive and penetrating examination of their own beliefs and motives, identify their true svabhava, and undertake an action that answers their inner needs. In the process, their action is depicted more as a laksana rather than a sadhana. And through them he perhaps wants to say that that’s where the ultimate bliss for mankind lies.   
Source: Adapted from The Bhagavadgita, S Radhakrishnan and The Bhrahma Sutra, S Radhakrishnan.

Raghavulu comes to Asaami and stands before him. Pullayya also comes to the deck.

“Your father might wish to talk to you about something, go with him,” says Dora.

“What is there to talk with me? He came to speak to you. You and he may talk to each other.”

“See Dora, how mad he is—like the anecdotal one who said, ‘I too have to go for my marriage?’”

“What is there for me to speak? You are the elder one, he is the Dora, the knower of the dharma16, why me in between? I have to go for ploughing,” Raghavulu starts walking into the house despite his father’s calling.

Orey Raghavulu! It’s alright if you don’t want to stay, but plough carefully—being diligent of the young bull. Else, it may turn bad for farm operations,” says Asaami.

“Have the cake and eat it too, but how? Water is about to be released into the canals. Still, seven acres of our dry land is to be ploughed. How to get all this done with a single pair of cattle well before water is released?” Saying, Raghavulu walks into the house.

“Hell with it! Whenever it is to be over, it will be!” Asaami reaffirms his point.

“How to pull on with this kind of a son,” says Pullayya, after his son goes inside the house.

“That’s OK! Go, you too take your food. We shall talk later.”

After taking food everyone goes about their work. Lying on a bench in the veranda, Venkayya leisurely smokes his cheroot. Picking up the midrib of the tobacco leaf thrown off by the Lord, Pullayya breaks it into pieces and throws them into his mouth to munch.

“Hey, what are you doing, wouldn’t I give you a full leaf if asked?”

“No, Dora. These strips taste better.”

In the meantime, Lakshuvamma, having finished her household chores, comes out and sits with them.

Dora, listen to me!”

Coming out of his pondering, Venkayya asks, “What?”

Pullayya hesitates for a while.

“Why this hesitation, Pullayya! Ask, whatever you want,” says the Lady of the house.

Doragaru, I want to get him married this year.”

“Selected a bride?” asks Lakshuvamma.

“Not yet, Dorasanigaru.”

“Then what is your ‘crying alas!’ for,” asks Asaami.

“As you know, Doragaru, it is only upon knowing that one is earning reasonably sufficient sum that someone will come forward offering their girl as bride.”

“Isn’t he earning? Sure, he is not roaming like a he-calf.”

“How can a wife and husband live on 50 bucks Dora? That’s why, wherever I go for a bride, everyone questions me about his earnings.”

“So, you want to say that unless the annual wage is increased, you will not let your son work for me. Right?” asks Asaami.

“Ups and downs in our lives, you know well! Yet, if you say that, what do I have.’’

Thinking over it for a while, Venkayya says, “So, what do you want to say?”

“My village shavukar17 is offering two pairs of clothes and a wage of Rs. 75.”

“Then, you keep your son with them for the promised wage.” Venkayya, who is lying on the bench, turns towards the wall.

Wondering at the proposal, Lakshuvamma exclaims, “Would anyone at once raise the wage by Rs. 25?”

“I swear on you Dorasanigaru, the shavukar came to keep the hard currency of Rs. 75 in my hand. And I am conscious; I am saying this, sitting under a house built by many.”18 

Lakshuvamma couldn’t say anything.

Orey Pullai, why turn down a good offer? Take along your son and place him happily with your village shavukar. That lessens our burden too. Then coming to the dues, Raghavulu has been working with no absence all through last year, and I shall pay you the dues in the morning.”

“If you forsake kindness, what would happen to poor people like us?”

“Certainly, I mean it … I am not taunting. Tell Raghavulu when he comes in the evening, and take him with you.”

No one spoke for a while. Hearing that Raghavulu would be taken away, Lakshuvamma’s eyes welled up. He had lived in their house for so long. And, he used to carry out his work without ever being asked to. Though ‘skilled workers’ are available, no one can be sure of their trustworthiness. She feels like asking her husband to retain Raghavulu by raising his wages a little, say by Rs. 10 or 15. Is it necessary for her to tell him anything in particular about it? Isn’t he aware of how everything is going on, irrespective of his presence or absence at home? She wonders: If the man steering the family himself asks Pullai to take away his son, there must be a valid reason for it. The moment this thought dawns on her, she could not press for retaining him.

“So, Doragaru!”

“What—want me to jump into the river?”

“Alas! Why such inauspicious words? If only you can explain it vividly.”

“Haven’t you said?”

“I did, but you have heard what he said a while ago. Unless you tell him to leave, Raghavulu will not leave your yard Doragaru.”

“If that is so, will he listen to me?”

“Certainly, my son has tremendous faith in you.”

“Alright! I shall tell him tonight right in front of you.” Venkayya then gets up and wearing his chappal walks away to the field.

In the night, after everyone finished dinner, Venkayya, sitting on the deck, lights his cheroot and calls for Raghavulu, who is putting hay before the cattle, and Pullai who is sitting in the front yard. Both father and son come and sit on the floor before him.

“Raghavulu, did you enquire why your father came?” asks Asaami.

Raghavulu nodded his head. In the meanwhile, Chinnadora and Chittodu come and sit beside their father on the deck.

“Then, what did you say to your father?” asks Asaami again.

“What have I got to say? You know everything,” says Raghavulu, smiling.

“Would you both, father and son, then, obey what I say?”

“Do we have anything to say against your word?” says Raghavulu.

“If ‘equity’ is delivered who can deny it?” says Pullayya.

Arey Raghavulu, the shavukar of your village seems to be ready to pay you Rs. 75 if you join him to work in his yard.” Venkayya flings away the dead cheroot.

“What have you to say?” Raghavulu stares at Asaami.

“What is it that you want me to tell you? Can I say no to your earning a few more rupees? Even if I say no, how would you feel? Shouldn’t the society approve of it? You go with your father tomorrow. No doubt, you have all along reposed faith in me. You are no way different to me from Chittodu. I understand you are not heeding your father’s persistent pleadings. But let me confess, it’s not that I don’t feel like retaining you with me. But what am I to do? Time is against me. Rates of farm produce have dipped so low. How can I afford? Get up early and go with your father tomorrow.”

Venkayya, turning to the other side, pulls Chittodu closer to him.

“Where is Raghavoi going?” Chittodu asks his father.

“To his home.”

“Where is his home? Isn’t this his?”

“No. It is far off.”

“Why are you going Raghavoi? Did father beat you?”

Everyone laughs, except Asaami.

“He is going to his mother,” says Venkayya.

“When will he return?”

“Never again,” says Chinnadora.

“Don’t go Raghavoi, aren’t we friends?” saying so, Chittodu goes to Raghavulu and puts his tiny hands around his neck tightly.

“I won’t go, you go and lie down.”

“Ha! I know, by eluding me, you want to get away. Tonight, I shall sleep beside you.” Chittodu then starts pestering Raghavulu.

“He won’t go nanna19, you go and sleep inside,” says Venkayya.

“I know, tonight I will sleep near Raghavoi only.”

With Chittodu on his shoulder, Raghavulu goes into the cattle shed.

 “Arey Peddoda!20 Ask your mother to go and fetch Chittodu,” saying so, Venkayya sends his elder son.

Doragaru,” Pullayya reminds Venkayya of his presence.

“Haven’t I said? You take him with you in the morning. I have given your dues to Dorasani. Take it from her. Why, it’s already late. Go and sleep on the mat, spreading it on the deck.”

Venkayya then goes inside the house and lies down. Lakshuvamma adds yeast to milk and tidies the kitchen. Then, taking a lamp in hand, she goes to the backyard, closes the back-door and picks up Chittodu from Raghavulu’s cot and places him on her bed in the house. She then adjusts the wick of the lamp to lessen the light in the room. She puts the pillow that was thrown off the cot back under the head of her elder son and sets his dhoti properly by pulling it down to his ankles. She then returns to her bed and sits on it. Like a child, her husband is still rolling up on the cot.

Emandi!21 Are you asleep?” Lakshuvamma laughs.

“Yes,” replies Venkayya.

“Didn’t know that sleeping people could also speak? By the bye, why was Raghavulu weeping? Have you said anything to him?”

“I haven’t said anything to him. I advised him to go away with his father. What else can I do, when I can’t afford?”

“Is it difficult to pay Rs. 75 for the kind of his labor?”

“OK! Pay, then, if your father has given something?”

“Why, working for you, but payment by my father?” quipped Lakshuvamma.

“That’s what I am saying—I can’t afford it.”

“True, when it comes to me or him, your hand will never ever move towards the wallet,” taunted Lakshuvamma.

“You do not perceive the ups and downs. When would you become wise? You were restless till I wrote that promissory note for Rs. 5,000 favoring your son-in-law. Spent around Rs. 1,000 on laying the roof of the cattle shed. While I am haunted by the question of how to get rid of these debts, you want to add this burden too? After all, I am also a human being,” yells Venkayya.

The poor lady just remains silent. After a while, chanting the name of ‘Rama’, she reclines on the cot. But Venkayya could not sleep. He suddenly feels the presence of his son-in-law’s father reminding him, “Makham, Phalgunam22—with the coming of Phalgunam, the promissory note becomes due for payment,” and his village shavukar saying, “we need money back Abbai,” right before him. This makes him feel as though ants are crawling all over his body. He pulls his legs further closer to his body. Yet, the more he flinches, the more the ants are building huge molehills over him. A wild shiver rattles him. With a jerk he wakes up and sits on the cot, opening his eyes. The light of the lamp, however, gives him a little confidence.

Yet, his heart is pounding. Involuntarily, a wild thought process overtook him: Did I ever crave for distant comforts? Did I ever run a race that I am not supposed to be in? Who asked me to write the promissory note for Rs. 5,000 favoring the father of my son-in-law? Which farmer will ever cut off a piece of land from his holding, to give away? Because, it wasn’t done, all these problems today.

What are these debts after all for me, if only the rates of paddy remained the same? Wouldn’t they have been cleared in four to five years? Why at all the prices should crash? I have been listening to the almanac every year. Why has not even a single siddhanthi23 written about the fall of prices? Well, how do even they know the karma24?

Then, what is the karma that I did? I have not cheated anybody. I have not transgressed my Varna Dharma—the eternal laws of my caste. Why then, this ill-fate for me? Why then, such ‘fortunes’ to the village shavukar? What ‘good’ has he done? Hasn’t he ruined many families? Hasn’t he extinguished many lamps?25 

He might have performed ‘holy-deeds’ in his previous birth. Does it mean that karma then lords over even God? If that be so, why then God?

For my intelligence, am I to ridicule God? Venkayya shivers with fear. Praying to God for forgiveness, he slaps himself on his cheeks.

So, what am I to do? I may have to straightaway sell the land, cattle—whatever there is—and pay off the debts. If I were to keep my word and be off my debts, that’s it! Yes. I will dispose of them all. What after the disposal? Two children, me, and wife—how to manage? I may have to work for another Asaami, for what else can I do other than farm work? When no land is owned, perforce one has to mortgage himself to another farmer!

Having lived thus far, am I to work for another farmer to earn a wage? Am I to sell the land inherited from my grandparents and great grandparents and leave my children in destitution? Is it for this that father handed over that chunk of land? Instead, wouldn’t it be better to hold the breath—it won’t take three minutes.

Venkayya, of course, could neither dare to dispose of the land nor dare stop his breath. If there is God, wouldn’t he be kind enough?

Early morning, Pullai, in the anxiety of not finding Raghavulu, wakes up Doragaru. Everyone is stunned: “Where is he? Where has he been?” Woken up by the commotion, Chittodu starts crying. With great difficulty, Lakshuvamma pacifies him. Having seen everything with his own eyes, Pullai could not say anything against Dora. Placing the money that her husband had given the previous night in the hands of Pullai, Lakshuvamma assures him, “Nothing would happen to Raghavoi,” and sees him off.

As the day draws nearer to afternoon, Raghavulu returns home with a lantern in hand.

“Came, amma, Raghavoi came. For me, he brought a fruit too,” shouts Chittodu, and chuckling with joy, runs to his mother to pass on the fruit.

 As she comes out of the house, Raghavulu is washing his face in the backyard with the water from the brass vessel. Seeing him, out of frustration, she swears at him: “Where the hell have you buried yourself all along?”

“As the nursery in the western field was drying up, went there to water it. What else do you think have I taken the lantern for?”

“When your father came to see you with great anxiety, you rascal, you hid yourself from him?”

“Scold anyway amma. You can swear at me. And I am to honor it. Aren’t you scolding Chinnadora?

Now, coming to my father? For all these ten years, where was this father? Whether it is fever or pain, it is you who has been looking after me. Did he ever come to take care of me? Tell me?”

“What is it that after all, Pullai said? Isn’t it for your good?”

Aaha! How nicely you have put it! Do they need my welfare? It is only  my wage. They have been taking away my wage every year. If they are really interested in my welfare, let them show how much money of mine they have with them? They have swallowed everything. There is not even a paisa today.”

“Why then give birth to and nourish children? Isn’t it for their support to the family?”

“True, as you said, had they brought me up, that’s right. But you cared for me. Did they ever?”

Lakshuvamma could not argue any further, “That’s not the point, if you hide yourself from him, what will your father think? Won’t he think that we told you to behave that way?”

“What is there for you to say in this? Yesterday itself I told him on his face, ‘I am not coming.’ How could he then say anything against you?”

“OK! Whatever is destined to happen, will happen. It’s already too late. Go, get ready quickly to gulp down two morsels.”

Immediately after eating food, Raghavulu leaves for ploughing the field.

The whole village, including Venkayya and Lakshuvamma, is surprised at his behavior. Since then, whenever anyone talked of workers in the village, no one could converse without mentioning Raghavulu. Why so much concern for Asaami? Why all are not like him? Why don’t all others work so diligently like Raghavulu? It is these issues that have today become intractable international issues for the villagers.

Whenever the other Asaamis in the village were to scold their laborers, they used to cite the example of Raghavulu. Similarly, laborers are also asking for new things under one pretext or the other. Besides, they are laying down many conditions—they should not be asked to pound paddy, they should not be fed with stale food, and their elders should not be abused. They must be given a pair of dhotis and a pair of upper clothes per annum. Every month, they must be supplied with a quarter pound of dry tobacco leaves. And Asaamis should be content with whatever work is turned out, and should not scold for this and that. There are a few other such conditions. But no farmer observed them; nor did the laborers ever work like Raghavulu.

Yet, kaalavahini26 didn’t stop for even a minute. The rainy season came. Wetland villages all have became cesspools of water. Raghavulu never used to come out of the cattle shed. He is always busy either in collecting urine in pots and throwing it outside so that the floor remained dry for cattle to lie down, or in feeding them from time to time. Immediately after eating food, he used to take a handful of jute fiber, and egarra27 to weave ropes for the cattle. He wouldn’t allow any unevenness or blotch to go unnoticed in the woven rope; he wouldn’t mind even to unwind the whole length and weave it again.

At times he wonders: why this passion? How does it matter if the rope is not neat and clean? All that matters is its serving the purpose. Still his mind will not yield to such arguments.

Although the cattle and the farm are not his, as long as he is in the yard, everything must be in perfection. By the bye, Asaami said that he couldn’t afford him. Why did he say it? What if he was serious about it?—Oh! no way. How could he be? Wasn’t he aware of justice? Having had me for all these years, how could he now ask me to go? Am I alone becoming a burden to him? It’s perhaps my madness—why would he think so?

His young heart, which is not able to see the reality, is however, dreaming of sweet castles. He wishes for his Asaami’s farmyard to be flourishing. There should be no cattle that can compete with his Asaami’s, not only in that village, but also in the neighboring villages. The farm that he is cultivating, he dreams, must yield thirty bags per acre. This season they have puddled the land twice before transplantation. Tillering is also good. If every tiller comes out with an ear-head, it will surely yield thirty bags. No doubt about it. But, vishaka28 must be watched? Who knows, it may ruin the whole dream?

In his heart of hearts, Raghavulu silently prays for ‘time’ to move on alright, and for his farm and the land that he tilled, though it belongs to Asaami, to produce bountiful of grains. How come, he cultivated such affection? What did he gain from it? Perhaps, Pundits alone can attempt an answer for these questions.

Just as the rains receded, good days too receded for Venkayya. His son-in-law’s father sent a registered notice demanding the payment of Rs. 6,800 that is due to him under the promised dowry. His village shavukar too demanded the payment of his dues of Rs. 1,608 within that very month. The milkmaid started pestering Lakshuvamma to repay her dues of Rs. 75. Since then, Lakshuvamma started fearing that something was wrong with their stars; she wondered if the rotation of sun and moon was not in order.

Rueing on his karma, Venkayya became restless. Even if he was getting a wink of sleep late in the night, the creditors suddenly would appear before him, demanding repayment of loans—literally poking at him, like the messengers of yama29. Even if he escaped from their poking, the milkmaid, Durgee, would not leave him. He used to feel as though Durgee was dumping her milk pot on his head saying, “Take this too.”

Not being able to put up with the pain of debts, he silently disposed eight acres of his much cherished wetland for Rs. 7,500 to Surayya. He also sold the stored paddy of forty bags for Rs. 400. Yet, he was still left with sundry debts amounting to Rs. 600. Venkayya was still not free from the debts. One night, he gave a hint to his wife that he might have to dispose of the bullocks and the cows too.

“Thank God! You haven’t said about ‘selling the children too’,” exclaims Lakshuvamma.

“What am I to do if the creditors press for payment?”

“Do whatever, but don’t sell the cattle....worst comes to the worst, can we not clear them in the next harvesting season?”

“Having disposed the wetland, how many more hundreds of bags of yield, do you think we would get?”

Lakshuvamma could not speak immediately.

“Had we sold the land that we have sold today three years back, we would not have ended up in this grave,” says his wife, blowing her nose.

“Who thought karma would force itself upon us like this? I’ve been hoping—debts would get cleared out of the annual crops.”

“Our karma being what it is, no point in blaming you.” Lakshuvamma wipes her tears with her sari.

Venkayya, identifying his karma as the sole cause for his current plight and throwing the entire blame on it, feels himself relieved of the burden. But, will the world leave at that?

For the world, a man’s weakness in one aspect could mean weak in entirety. No sooner had the news of selling his land spread than the other creditors started pressing for repayment. Unless the debts were many, would he sell eight acres of land? If all were to be cleared, why would he sell it so secretly? Which means, the debt must be huge! The moment it struck their minds, the creditors unleash a ‘run’ on him.

This makes Venkayya feel as if he is rolling on a bed of burning coal. One day, when cattle buyers came, he disposes off the young bull and bullock for Rs. 350 and quietly arranges for sending them away, for if Lakshuvamma sees, would she let that happen?

On that day, Raghavulu, sweating profusely, returns late from the field, carrying a heavy bundle of green grass. When he hurries to the cattle for feeding them with grass, there are no bullocks. He is stunned! Even if they ever untethered themselves, they never left the yard on their own. Asaami may entertain an obligation with anything else, but not with bullocks. Even if there was any such compulsion, he would only send the cattle along with him.

What then would have happened to the bullocks today? Wondering if owing to urgency Asaami himself might have gone with the bullock cart, Raghavulu looks for it. But the cart and its chiruthalu30 are very much in the shed. Even the plough and its accompaniments are all in their respective places. Unmindful of the ruckus created by the other cattle for the green grass, Raghavulu hurriedly runs to Lakshuvamma and asks, “Who has taken away the bullocks?”

“Aren’t they in the cattle shed?”


“Your dora might have gone out with the bullock cart.”

“The cart is very much there in the shed.” Dragging his feet towards the yard, Raghavulu squats in the middle.

Dropping the vessel in the hand meant for collecting milk, and the rope for tying the legs of the cow while milking it, in the middle of the hall, Lakshuvamma too rushes into the yard enquiring, “Aren’t bullocks there?” After all, they aren’t a needle not to be seen, though present?

As her elder son enters the yard, she hurries him out saying, “Go and get your father saying bullocks are missing from the shed.”

A while later, her son returns saying, “Father is not at the library pyol.”

In the meanwhile, darkness advances. Lakshuvamma, having fed the cow with bran, sends the milk-vessel and the rope to fasten the legs of the cow before milking, with Chittodu, to Raghavulu to ask him to milk the cow. Raghavulu, lying on the hay-sheaf under the cart, does not respond. Lakshuvamma too comes and requests him. She even shouts at him. It is of no avail. She then asks her elder son. He expresses his inability. She wonders, being a woman, how can she milk the cow. She waits for the arrival of her husband, who, however, hasn’t turned up, though considerable time has lapsed. Peeved at the delay in milking, the milch cow and the he-calf moo restlessly, creating cacophony in the yard.

Lakshuvamma feels terribly disturbed. Finally, she ventures out to milk the cow herself. She then calls Raghavulu for dinner. He doesn’t move. She calls her elder son. Initially, he too refuses, but finally yields to take two morsels of food. Chittodu, feeling sleepy, presses his mother for making the bed. When Lakshuvamma goes into the room for bed-sheets, she sees her husband moaning on the bed covering himself fully with a blanket.

Carrying away the bed-sheets, she makes the bed for both the sons and asking them to lie down, she returns to the room with the lamp and laying her hand on the temple of her husband, enquires, “Are you feeling feverish?” Warm water falls on her fingers. She is taken aback.

“Looks like you are suffering from fever!”

“No,” moans Venkayya.

“All sorrows have come together! The bullocks too have fled away from the shed.”

After a while, heaving a sigh, Venkayya says, “I have sold them.”

Lakshuvamma, shell-shocked, stands motionless for a while. She could not utter a single word. Later, with a lantern in hand, she goes into the cattle shed and sitting a little away from Raghavulu, tells him, “Seems, your dora sold away the bullocks.”

Raghavulu doesn’t say anything. He merely keeps staring at the bamboos of the roof. Blowing her nose, Lakshuvamma narrates to him the debts and the plight of the family in detail.

“After all, what can he do, when our karma is like this? Our plight has quite worsened. How can you stop it? Get up, my child, get up to take food. Whole day you have labored so hard, unless you take some food, you may faint by morning. Come on… get up…”

“What can you too do for my karma,” says Raghavulu.

Despite her varied pleadings, Lakshuvamma could not make Raghavulu eat food. She too, feeling an aversion for food, lies on the cot drawing Chittodu closer to her stomach, engulfed in fear—fear of the ‘future’.

That night was a Shivarathri31 for Raghavulu. Like a cinema, the whole of his past rolled before his eyes. Why have I been staying with Venkayya all along? Sweating it out for all these years? What was the outcome? Even Asaami didn’t gain anything out of it. Did I gain anything? The empty stomach is making mere noises. Why, then, this labor? What if, it was to be under someone else? What extra would it have resulted in? If that be so, why this labor, unmindful of one’s own well-being? Just for belly’s sake? Is it merely for the belly? Is that what I lived for? What if, I don’t live this life at all? Which god will cry?

What is that I am craving for? After all, isn’t it for bullocks and farming? No doubt about that. Isn’t it the loss of the young bull that I fed and trained, which is terribly disturbing me? Means, all that I need is the bullocks and a handful of farm, which is productive. I can be content with them. My life could then pass on happily. Despite selling my labor and my independence, how is it that I am not getting them?

Finally, Raghavulu too, throws the blame for his current plight on karma? However, the shackles that have been holding him for all these days have simply broken without his realization. So, why should he then stay here alone?

That night he couldn’t sleep a wink. As the thoughts rolled on, it is dawn. Getting up and completing his morning chores, he puts on washed clothes, packs the soiled clothes and hanging them to one end of the staff, walks straight to the house and calls Lakshuvamma. Along with her, Asaami, Chinnadora and Chittodu come out to the yard. Looking at Raghavulu’s attire, they are frozen—simply stand like wooden statues.

“Going amma!” says Raghavulu.

“Where?” asks Lakshuvamma in a surprised tone.

“Haven’t thought of it, yet.”

“Will you go to your father?” asks Venkayya.

“No! I won’t.”

That makes everyone speechless.

Lakshuvamma stops him saying, “Eat food and then go. Last night too you haven’t had anything.”

In the meantime, the he-calf comes jumping to Raghavulu and holds his dhoti in mouth.

“No amma, you have asked, that is enough for me.”

Holding his chin, Lakshuvamma implores, “Babu32, listen to me…”

“Not now, let me go.” Raghavulu pulled out his dhoti from the mouth of he-calf.

Chittodu cries at once. He-calf bellows. Led by it, all the cattle in the yard moo in chorus.

            That day, all that bellowing could not lay shackles on Raghavulu’s legs.

1   Eme! Ninne!—a rustic way of calling wife in the countryside—‘‘Hey, You!”
2   Arey! Chittoda—fond way of calling the youngest kid of the house.
3   Dhoti—the loincloth worn by male Hindus.
4   Tottukodaka—a slang, son of a whore; used in the countryside in two ways: to abuse when angry with someone; two, to chide someone affectionately—of course, only when one is sure that the other person would not take offense.
5   Dora—a way of addressing the employer by the servant.
  6 Asaami—the farmer who hires a person as an agricultural laborer on an annual basis.
  7 Bavoi punnami—full moon of the first or second week of June is treated by the farming community as a festival of the ‘beginning of tilling the soil.’ Farmers start their agricultural activities of the new season from that day. Also, the annual labor are appointed from that day.
  8 Eemei—another way of calling wife.
  9 Chantadu—rope meant for drawing water from the well.
10 Dorasanigaru—my revered Lady—a way of addressing Asaami’s wife by the workers.
11 Bujjai—fond way of calling the he-calf.
12 Chinnadora—young master—normal way of addressing the next male in the hierarchy of the family.
13 Nanna—father.
14 Arey abbai—my child—a warm way of calling a young man, by his father or for that matter any elder.
15 Orey ninnera—hey! you!—a colloquial way of reminding a person about the call made earlier on him.
16 Dharma—cosmic and social order and the rules pertaining to it; it is the central concern of Hinduism.
17 Shavukar—village moneylender.
18 Saying this, sitting under a house built by many—a local expression to reinforce that one is speaking the truth and the truth alone.
19 Nanna—fond way of calling a child, while cajoling.
20 Arey Peddoda—informal way of calling elder son.
21 Emandi—the way a wife addresses her husband.
22 Makham, Phalgunam—months in Telugu calendar equal to January-February (Maaghamu); and February-March (Phaalgunamu) of Roman calendar.
23 Siddhanthi—writer of almanac.
24 Karma—in Vedanta, it is the non-material residue of any action performed by a person, the cause of embodiment and of Samsara. In popular terms, every Hindu is inclined to attribute everything that happens—fortune, or misfortune—to his/her karma. Karma is commonly used to denote: action, destiny and also ‘prarabdha karma,’—karma inherited from the previous birth. In this story, the word is used with all these various shades of meaning.
25 Extinguished many lamps—a colloquial expression, which means ruined many families/lives.
26 Kaalavahini—flow of time.
27 Egarra—an instrument used in the process of weaving ropes meant for cattle.
28 Vishaka—a constellation of stars, said to come into existence around 6 November to 18 November. During this period, there is a danger of rains ruining the paddy crop that would be in ‘flowering/grain-formation’ stage.
29 Yama—the Vedic god of the realm of the dead and the judge of departed souls.
30 Chiruthalu—sticks placed in the yoke to hold the straps meant for fastening bullocks to the yoke.
31 Shivarathri—a Hindu festival. On the festive night, Hindus keep themselves awake whole night.  Shivarathri is thus used to denote a sleepless night.
32 Babu—affectionate way of addressing anybody, including a worker.

Acknowledgement: Thanks are due to Dr.G.Umadevi, daughter of Dr. GVKrishnarao and the copyright holder. 

Dr. G V Krishnarao (1914 - 1979)
   He  wrote four novels in Telugu, a volume of playlets, a couple of plays, a pair of collection of short stories, and a critical survey of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani (The End of Discussions). He has also translated Plato and Kant into Telugu. His writings give us a true reflection of his personality—“curious, humble, rationalistic, humane, and true to life.” His playlet—Bikshapatra (Begging Bowl)—was proclaimed a ‘National Play’ and was translated into sixteen Indian languages and broadcasted through All India Radio. His last play—Bomma Yedchindi (The Doll Wept)—portrays “a clash and crash of ideas and ideals” rather than personalities, which “leaves the audience in a subdued mood of sorrow.” Keelubommalu (Puppets), his maiden work, has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding novels in Telugu. In yet another novel, Papikondalu (Papi Hills), he advocates that ‘natural truth’ is better than ‘didacticism.’


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